Can the Likelihood Value be
Greater Than 0?
ReliaSoft's Weibull++
and ALTA software
packages provide the option to use the Maximum Likelihood
Estimation (MLE) parameter estimation method. With this method,
the set of values that maximize the likelihood function is used
as the estimated parameters for the distribution. Many
reliability engineers have the impression that the natural
logarithm of the likelihood function (Lnlikelihood) is always
negative, or in other words, that the likelihood value should
always be less than 0. However, this is not true. In this
article, we will explain the reason why the Lnlikelihood
function can be greater than 0.
Theoretical Background
Let x
be a continuous random variable, for instance the failure time,
with a probability density function (pdf) expressed as:
where
θ_{1},
θ_{2},
,
θ_{k}
are the
k
unknown parameters that need to be estimated and
x_{1},
x_{2},
,
x_{R}
are the
R
independent observed failure times. This type of failure data is
called "complete failure data." The likelihood function for
complete failure data is given by: [1]

(1) 
The Lnlikelihood function is
given by:

(2) 
To understand Eqn. (1), one needs
to look at the original meaning of the pdf and the
likelihood function. The likelihood function is a probability
function that gives the probability that the given failure data
can be observed. However, is Eqn. (1) a probability function?
Actually, it is a simplified equation that neglects a small time
interval
Δt
(close to 0).[2] For a given time,
t,
the probability that a failure occurs in a very small interval
around
t
is:
The following plot gives a
graphical illustration of the above equation.
Figure 1: pdf Plot with a Small Time Interval
The area under the pdf
curve within the interval
Δt
is the probability that an event occurs around time
t.
Therefore, the "true" likelihood function for a data set is:
Δt
has no effect on the final parameter estimation in MLE because
it can be treated as a constant value. Thus, it is usually
omitted in the likelihood function. It is this simplified
version of the function that is given in Eqn. (1) above.
The product
is the probability that failure occurs within a small interval
around time
x_{i},
therefore it is a value between 0 and 1. However, the pdf
function
can be greater than 1. Thus, Eqn. (1) can have a value greater
than 1, which causes the Lnlikelihood function of Eqn. (2) to
be greater than 0. In
Weibull++ and ALTA, values of Eqn. (2) are given
as the "LK Values" in the results.
When performing maximum likelihood analysis on data with
censored items, the likelihood function is expanded. Extra terms
are added to the likelihood function to account for the censored
data. The likelihood function is formulated as:
where:

is for complete failure data.

is for right censored data.

is for interval and left censored data.[1]
Eqn. (3) is also a simplified form
because the small time
Δt
is removed for the complete data type. Since
can be greater than 1, the value of L
can be greater than 1.
From the above equation, we can
see that in the likelihood function, the probability functions
of censored data are expressed in terms of the cumulative
distribution function (cdf) and those of complete data
are expressed in terms of the probability density function (pdf).
The pdf of complete data may be greater than 1, which may
cause the whole equation to have a value greater than 1.
Example 11 The
exponential distribution is used to analyze the data set in
Table 1. Figure 2 gives the results.
Table 1: Complete Failure Data
State F or S 
Time to State 
F 
0.06 
F 
0.09 
F 
0.1 
F 
0.2 
Figure 2: Data with Positive
Lnlikelihood Value
The calculated Lnlikelihood
value of 4.7392 is shown in the figure above. It can be
obtained using the estimated value of the parameter
λ
and Eqn. (2):
Example 2 If 20
additional units were tested, all of which were suspended at
time = 0.25, then the data in Table 1 becomes:
Table 2: Failure Data with
Right Censoring
Number in State

State F or S

Time to State

1

F

0.06

1

F

0.09

1

F

0.1

1

F

0.2

20

S

0.25

Figure 3 shows the MLE results for Table 2.
Figure 3: Data with a Negative LnLikelihood Value
Figure 3 shows that the Lnlikelihood value becomes
negative, which means the "likelihood" value is less than 1.
Conclusions
In this article, we explained why the Lnlikelihood value in
Weibull++ and ALTA can be positive. Examining
the theoretical background of the likelihood function and
the pdf makes the reason clear: The so called
"likelihood" function is actually a modified likelihood
function. The pdf terms in the function can cause the
likelihood value be any positive value. So, it is not
surprising to see a positive Lnlikelihood value.
References [1] ReliaSoft
Corporation,
Life
Data (Weibull) Analysis Reference, Tucson: ReliaSoft
Publishing, 2008.
[2] Meeker, W. Q. and Escobar, L. A.,
Statistical Methods for Reliability Data, New York: John
Wiley & Sons, 1998.
