The Annals of Statistics

Statistical consistency and asymptotic normality for high-dimensional robust $M$-estimators

Po-Ling Loh

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We study theoretical properties of regularized robust $M$-estimators, applicable when data are drawn from a sparse high-dimensional linear model and contaminated by heavy-tailed distributions and/or outliers in the additive errors and covariates. We first establish a form of local statistical consistency for the penalized regression estimators under fairly mild conditions on the error distribution: When the derivative of the loss function is bounded and satisfies a local restricted curvature condition, all stationary points within a constant radius of the true regression vector converge at the minimax rate enjoyed by the Lasso with sub-Gaussian errors. When an appropriate nonconvex regularizer is used in place of an $\ell_{1}$-penalty, we show that such stationary points are in fact unique and equal to the local oracle solution with the correct support; hence, results on asymptotic normality in the low-dimensional case carry over immediately to the high-dimensional setting. This has important implications for the efficiency of regularized nonconvex $M$-estimators when the errors are heavy-tailed. Our analysis of the local curvature of the loss function also has useful consequences for optimization when the robust regression function and/or regularizer is nonconvex and the objective function possesses stationary points outside the local region. We show that as long as a composite gradient descent algorithm is initialized within a constant radius of the true regression vector, successive iterates will converge at a linear rate to a stationary point within the local region. Furthermore, the global optimum of a convex regularized robust regression function may be used to obtain a suitable initialization. The result is a novel two-step procedure that uses a convex $M$-estimator to achieve consistency and a nonconvex $M$-estimator to increase efficiency. We conclude with simulation results that corroborate our theoretical findings.

Article information

Ann. Statist., Volume 45, Number 2 (2017), 866-896.

Received: January 2015
Revised: April 2016
First available in Project Euclid: 16 May 2017

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Mathematical Reviews number (MathSciNet)

Zentralblatt MATH identifier

Primary: 62F12: Asymptotic properties of estimators

Robust regression high-dimensional statistics statistical consistency support recovery nonconvex optimization


Loh, Po-Ling. Statistical consistency and asymptotic normality for high-dimensional robust $M$-estimators. Ann. Statist. 45 (2017), no. 2, 866--896. doi:10.1214/16-AOS1471.

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Supplemental materials

  • Supplement to “Statistical consistency and asymptotic normality for high-dimensional robust $M$-estimators.”. We provide detailed technical proofs for the results stated in the main body of the paper.