Inference in curved exponential family models for networks

David R. Hunter, Mark S. Handcock

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

318 Scopus citations


Network data arise in a wide variety of applications. Although descriptive statistics for networks abound in the literature, the science of fitting statistical models to complex network data is still in its infancy. The models considered in this article are based on exponential families; therefore, we refer to them as exponential random graph models (ERGMs). Although ERGMs are easy to postulate, maximum likelihood estimation of parameters in these models is very difficult. In this article, we first review the method of maximum likelihood estimation using Markov chain Monte Carlo in the context of fitting linear ERGMs. We then extend this methodology to the situation where the model comes from a curved exponential family. The curved exponential family methodology is applied to new specifications of ERGMs, proposed in an earlier article, having nonlinear parameters to represent structural properties of networks such as transitivity and heterogeneity of degrees. We review the difficult topic of implementing likelihood ratio tests for these models, then apply all these model-fitting and testing techniques to the estimation of linear and nonlinear parameters for a collaboration network between partners in a New England law firm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)565-583
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Computational and Graphical Statistics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Discrete Mathematics and Combinatorics
  • Statistics, Probability and Uncertainty


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