#### Poisson vs Gaussian

We astronomers are rather fond of approximating our counting statistics with Gaussian error distributions, and a lot of ink has been spilled justifying and/or denigrating this habit. But just how bad is the approximation anyway?

I ran a simple Monte Carlo based test to compute the expected bias between a Poisson sample and the “equivalent” Gaussian sample. The result is shown in the plot below.

The jagged red line is the fractional expected bias relative to the true intensity. The typical recommendation in high-energy astronomy is to bin up events until there are about 25 or so counts per bin. This leads to an average bias of about 2% in the estimate of the true intensity. The bias drops below 1% for counts >50. Continue reading ‘Poisson vs Gaussian’ »