# Testing with Non-identically Distributed Samples

19 Nov 2023  ·  , , , ·

We examine the extent to which sublinear-sample property testing and estimation applies to settings where samples are independently but not identically distributed. Specifically, we consider the following distributional property testing framework: Suppose there is a set of distributions over a discrete support of size $k$, $\textbf{p}_1, \textbf{p}_2,\ldots,\textbf{p}_T$, and we obtain $c$ independent draws from each distribution. Suppose the goal is to learn or test a property of the average distribution, $\textbf{p}_{\mathrm{avg}}$. This setup models a number of important practical settings where the individual distributions correspond to heterogeneous entities -- either individuals, chronologically distinct time periods, spatially separated data sources, etc. From a learning standpoint, even with $c=1$ samples from each distribution, $\Theta(k/\varepsilon^2)$ samples are necessary and sufficient to learn $\textbf{p}_{\mathrm{avg}}$ to within error $\varepsilon$ in TV distance. To test uniformity or identity -- distinguishing the case that $\textbf{p}_{\mathrm{avg}}$ is equal to some reference distribution, versus has $\ell_1$ distance at least $\varepsilon$ from the reference distribution, we show that a linear number of samples in $k$ is necessary given $c=1$ samples from each distribution. In contrast, for $c \ge 2$, we recover the usual sublinear sample testing of the i.i.d. setting: we show that $O(\sqrt{k}/\varepsilon^2 + 1/\varepsilon^4)$ samples are sufficient, matching the optimal sample complexity in the i.i.d. case in the regime where $\varepsilon \ge k^{-1/4}$. Additionally, we show that in the $c=2$ case, there is a constant $\rho > 0$ such that even in the linear regime with $\rho k$ samples, no tester that considers the multiset of samples (ignoring which samples were drawn from the same $\textbf{p}_i$) can perform uniformity testing.

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