(Note: The R implementation of Estimating Logistic Regression Coefficents From Scratch can be found here.)

In this post, I’ll demonstrate how to estimate the coefficents of a Logistic Regression model using the Fisher Scoring algorithm. We will then compare our estimates to those generated by scikit-learn’s linear_model.LogisticRegression class when exposed to the same dataset. Specifically, we’ll focus on how parameters of a Logistic Regression model are calculated when fit to data with a dicotomous response.


In a Generalized Linear Model, the response may have any distribution from the exponential family, and rather than assuming the mean is a linear function of the explnatory variables, we assume that a function of the mean, or the link function, is a linear function of the explnatory variables.

Logistic Regression is used for modeling data with a categorical response. Although it’s possible to model multinomial data using Logistic Regression, in this post we’ll limit our analysis to models having a dichotomous response, where the outcome can be classified as ‘Yes/No’, ‘True/False’, ‘1/0’, ‘Good/Bad’, etc…

The Logistic Regression model is a Generalized Linear Model whose canonical link is the logit, or log-odds:

$$ Ln \Big(\frac{\pi_{i}}{1 - \pi_{i}} \Big) = \beta_{0} + \beta_{1}{x}_{i1} + \cdots + \beta_{p}{x}_{ip} $$

for \(i = (1, \cdots , n)\).

Solving the logit for \(\pi_{i}\), which is a stand-in for the predicted probability associated with \(x_{i}\), yields

$$ \pi_{i} = \frac {e^{\beta_{0} + \beta_{1}{x}_{i1} + \cdots + \beta_{p}{x}_{ip}}}{1 + e^{\beta_{0} + \beta_{1}{x}_{i1} + \cdots + \beta_{p}{x}_{ip}}} = \frac {1}{1 + e^{-(\beta_{0} + \beta_{1}{x}_{i1} + \cdots + \beta_{p}{x}_{ip})}}, $$

where \(-\infty<x_{i}<+\infty\) and \(0<\pi_{i}<1\).

In other words, the expression for \(\pi_{i}\) maps any real-valued \(x_{i}\) to a positive probability between 0 and 1.

Parameter Estimation

Maximum Likelihood Estimation can be used to determine the parameters of a Logistic Regression model, which entails finding the set of parameters for which the probability of the observed data is greatest. The objective is to estimate the \((p+1)\) unknown \(\beta_{0}, \cdots ,\beta_{p}\).

Let \(Y_{i}\) represent independent, dicotomous response values for each of \(n\) observations, where \(Y_{i}=1\) denotes a success and \(Y_{i}=0\) denotes a failure. The density function of a single observation \(Y_{i}\) is given by

$$ p(y_{i}) = \pi_{i}^{y_{i}}(1-\pi_{i})^{1-y_{i}} ,$$

and the corresponding Likelihood function is

$$ L(\beta) = \prod_{i=1}^{n} \pi_{i}^{y_{i}}(1-\pi_{i})^{1-y_{i}}. $$

Taking the natural log of the Maximum Likelihood Estimate results in the Log-Likelihood function:

$$ l(\beta) = Ln(L(\beta)) = Ln \Big(\prod_{i=1}^{n} \pi_{i}^{y_{i}}(1-\pi_{i})^{1-y_{i}} \Big) = \sum_{i=1}^{n} y_{i} Ln(\pi_{i}) + (1-y_{i})Ln(1-\pi_{i}) $$
$$ = \sum_{i=1}^{n} y_{i} Ln \Big(\frac {e^{\beta_{0} + \beta_{1}{x}_{i1} + \cdots + \beta_{p}{x}_{ip}}}{1 + e^{\beta_{0} + \beta_{1}{x}_{i1} + \cdots + \beta_{p}{x}_{ip}}} \Big) + (1 - y_{i}) Ln \Big(\frac {1}{1 + e^{\beta_{0} + \beta_{1}{x}_{i1} + \cdots + \beta_{p}{x}_{ip}}} \Big) $$
$$ = \sum_{i=1}^{n} y_{i}(\beta_{0} + \beta_{1}{x}_{i1} + \cdots + \beta_{p}{x}_{ip}) - Ln(1 + e^{\beta_{0} + \beta_{1}{x}_{i1} + \cdots + \beta_{p}{x}_{ip}}) \hspace{1.5cm}(*) $$

The first-order partial derivatives of the Log-Likelihood are calculated and set to zero for each \(\beta_{k}\), \(k = 0, 1, \cdots, p\)

$$ \frac {\partial l(\beta)}{\partial \beta_{k}} = \sum_{i=1}^{n} y_{i}x_{ik} - \pi_{i}x_{ik} = \sum_{i=1}^{n} x_{ik}(y_{i} - \pi_{i}) = 0, $$

which can be represented in matrix notation as

$$ \frac {\partial l(\beta)}{\partial \beta} = X^{T}(y - \pi), $$

where \(X^{T}\) is a \((p+1)\)-by-\(n\) matrix, and \((y - \pi)\) is a \(n\)-by-\(1\) vector.

The vector of first-order partial derivatives of the Log-Likelihood function is referred to as the score function in statistical literature, and is typically represented as \(U\).

These \((p+1)\) equations are solved simultaneously to obtain the parameter estimates \(\hat\beta_{0}, \cdots ,\hat\beta_{p}\). Each solution specifies a critical-point which will be either a maximum or a minimum. The critical point will be a maximum if the matrix of second partial derivatives is negative definite (which means every element on the diagonal of the matrix is less than zero).

The matrix of second partial derivatives is given by

$$ \frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta_{k}}{\partial \beta_{k}}^{T}} = - \sum_{i=1}^{n} x_{ik}\pi_{i}(1-\pi_{i}){x_{ik}}^{T}, $$

represented in matrix form as:

$$ \frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}} = -X^{T}WX, $$

where \(W\) is an \(n\)-by-\(n\) diagonal matrix of weights with each element equal to \(\pi_{i}(1 - \pi_{i})\) for Logistic Regression models (in general, the weights matrix \(W\) will have entries inversely proportional to the variance of the response).

Since no closed-form solution exists for determining Logistic Regression model coefficents (as exists for Linear Regression models), iterative techniques must be employed.

Fitting the Model

Two distinct but related iterative methods can be utilized in determining model coefficents: the Newton-Raphson method and Fisher Scoring. The Newton-Raphson method relies on the matrix of second partial derivatives, also known as the Hessian. The Newton-Raphson update formula is:

$$ \beta^{(t+1)} = \beta^{(t)} - (H^{(t)})^{-1}U^{(t)} $$


  • \(\beta^{(t+1)}\) = the vector of updated coefficent estimates
  • \(\beta^{(t)}\) = the vector of coefficent estimates from the previous iteration
  • \((H^{(t)})^{-1}\) = the inverse of the Hessian, \(\Big(\frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}}\Big)^{-1}\)
  • \(U^{(t)}\) = the vector of first-order partial derivatives of the Log-Likelihood function, \(\frac {\partial l(\beta)}{\partial \beta}\) = \(X^{T}(y - \pi)\)

The Newton-Raphson method starts with an initial guess for the solution, and obtains a second guess by approximating the function to be maximized in a neighborhood of the initial guess by a second-degree polynomial, and then finding the location of that polynomial’s maximum value. This process continues until it converges to the actual solution. The convergence of \(\beta^{t}\) to \(\hat{\beta}\) is usually fast, with adequate convergence realized after 4-5 iterations 1.

Fisher Scoring utilizes the expected information, \(-E\Big(\frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}}\Big)\). Let \(\mathcal{I}\) serve as a stand-in for the expected value of the information:

$$ \mathcal{I} = -E\Big(\frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}}\Big). $$

Then, the Fisher Scoring update step replaces \(-H^{(t)}\) from Newton-Raphson with \(\mathcal{I}^{(t)}\):

$$ \beta^{(t+1)} = \beta^{(t)} + (\mathcal{I}^{(t)})^{-1}U^{(t)}, $$
$$ \hspace{2.3cm} = \beta^{(t)} + (X^{T}WX)^{-1}X^{T}(y - \pi), $$


  • \(\beta^{(t+1)}\) = the vector of updated coefficent estimates
  • \(\beta^{(t)}\) = the vector of coefficent estimates from the previous iteration
  • \((\mathcal{I}^{(t)})^{-1}\) = the inverse of the expected information matrix, \(-E \Big(\frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}}\Big)^{-1}\)
  • \(U^{(t)}\) = the vector of first-order partial derivatives of the Log-Likelihood function, \(\frac {\partial l(\beta)}{\partial \beta}\) = \(X^{T}(y - \pi)\)

Iteration continues until \(\beta^{(t)}\) stabilizes.

For GLM’s with a canonical link (of which employing the logit for Logistic Regression is an example), the observed and expected information are the same. When the response follows an exponential family distribution, and the canonical link function is employed, observed and expected Information coincide so that Fisher Scoring is the same as Newton-Raphson.

When the canonical link is used, the second partial derivatives of the Log-Likelihood do not depend on the observation \(y_{i}\), and therefore

$$ \frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}} = E \Big(\frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}} \Big). $$

Fisher scoring has the advantage that it produces the asymptotic covariance matrix as a by-product.

To clarify:

  • The Hessian is the matrix of second partial derivatives of the Log-Likelihood with respect to the parameters, or \(H = \frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}}\).

  • The observed information is \(-\frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}}\).

  • The expected information is \(\mathcal{I} = E\Big(-\frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}}\Big)\).

  • The asymptotic covariance matrix is \(Var(\hat{\beta}) = E\Big(-\frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}}\Big)^{-1} = (X^{T}WX)^{-1}\).

For models employing a canonical link function:

  • The observed and expected information are the same, \(\frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}} = E\Big(\frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}}\Big)\).

  • \(H = -\mathcal{I}\), or \(\frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}} = E\Big(-\frac{\partial^{2} l(\beta)}{{\partial \beta}{\partial \beta}^{T}}\Big)\).

  • The Newton-Raphson and Fisher Scoring algorithms yield identical results.

Pure Python Fisher Scoring Implementation

The data used for our sample calculation can be obtained here. This data represents O-Ring failures in the 23 pre-Challenger space shuttle missions. In this dataset, TEMPERATURE will serve as the single explnatory variable which will be used to predict O_RING_FAILURE, which is 1 if a failure occurred, 0 otherwise.

Once the parameters have been determined, the model estimate of the probability of success for a given observation can be calculated with:

$$ \hat\pi_{i} = \frac {e^{\hat\beta_{0} + \hat\beta_{1}{x}_{i1} + \cdots + \hat\beta_{p}{x}_{ip}}}{1 + e^{\hat\beta_{0} + \hat\beta_{1}{x}_{i1} + \cdots + \hat\beta_{p}{x}_{ip}}} $$

In the following code segment, we define a single function, get_coefficients, which returns the estimated model coefficents as a \((p+1)\)-by-\(1\) array. In addition, the function returns the number of scoring iterations, fitted values and the variance-covariance matrix for the estimated coefficients:

def get_coefficients(design_matrix, response_vector, epsilon=.001):
    Determine Logistic Regression coefficents using Fisher Scoring algorithm.
    Iteration ceases once changes between elements in coefficent matrix across
    consecutive iterations is less than epsilon.
    # =========================================================================
    # design_matrix      `X`     => n-by-(p+1)                                |
    # response_vector    `y`     => n-by-1                                    |
    # probability_vector `p`     => n-by-1                                    |
    # weights_matrix     `W`     => n-by-n                                    |
    # epsilon                    => threshold above which iteration continues |
    # =========================================================================
    # n                          => # of observations                         |
    # (p + 1)                    => # of parameterss, +1 for intercept term   |
    # =========================================================================
    # U => First derivative of Log-Likelihood with respect to                 |
    #      each beta_i, i.e. `Score Function`: X_transpose * (y - p)          |
    #                                                                         |
    # I => Second derivative of Log-Likelihood with respect to                |
    #      each beta_i. The `Information Matrix`: (X_transpose * W * X)       |
    #                                                                         |
    # X^T*W*X results in a (p+1)-by-(p+1) matrix                              |
    # X^T(y - p) results in a (p+1)-by-1 matrix                               |
    # (X^T*W*X)^-1 * X^T(y - p) results in a (p+1)-by-1 matrix                |
    # ========================================================================|
    X = np.matrix(design_matrix)
    y = np.matrix(response_vector)

    # initialize logistic function used for Scoring calculations =>
    def pi_i(v): return (np.exp(v) / (1 + np.exp(v)))

    # initialize beta_0, p_0, W_0, I_0 & U_0 =>
    beta_0 = np.matrix(np.zeros(np.shape(X)[1])).T
    p_0 = pi_i(X * beta_0)
    W_pre = (np.array(p_0) * np.array(1 - p_0))
    W_0 = np.matrix(np.diag(W_pre[:, 0]))
    I_0 = X.T * W_0 * X
    U_0 = X.T * (y - p_0)

    # initialize variables for iteration =>
    beta_old = beta_0
    iter_I = I_0
    iter_U = U_0
    iter_p = p_0
    iter_W = W_0
    fisher_scoring_iterations = 0

    # iterate until abs(beta_new - beta_old) < epsilon =>
    while True:

        # Fisher Scoring Update Step =>
        fisher_scoring_iterations += 1
        beta_new = beta_old + iter_I.I * iter_U

        if all(np.abs(np.array(beta_new)-np.array(beta_old)) < epsilon):
            model_parameters  = beta_new
            fitted_values     = pi_i(X * model_parameters)
            covariance_matrix = iter_I.I

            iter_p     = pi_i(X * beta_new)
            iter_W_pre = (np.array(iter_p) * np.array(1 - iter_p))
            iter_W     = np.matrix(np.diag(iter_W_pre[:, 0]))
            iter_I     = X.T * iter_W * X
            iter_U     = X.T * (y - iter_p)
            beta_old   = beta_new

    summary = {
        'model_parameters' : np.array(model_parameters),
        'fitted_values'    : np.array(fitted_values),
        'covariance_matrix': np.array(covariance_matrix),
        'number_iterations': fisher_scoring_iterations

    return (summary)

We read in the Challenger dataset and partition it into the design matrix and response vector, which are then passed to get_coefficients:

import numpy as np
import pandas as pd


# read dataset with pandas =>
df = pd.read_csv("Challenger.csv")

# add intercept field =>
df['INTERCEPT'] = 1

X = df[['INTERCEPT', 'TEMPERATURE']].values
y = df[['O_RING_FAILURE']].values

# call `get_coefficients`, keeping epsilon at .001 =>
my_summary <- get_coefficients(X, y, epsilon=.001)

get_coefficients returns a dictionary with the following key-value pairs:

  • model_parameters’: The model’s estimated coefficents
  • covariance matrix’: The variance-covariance matrix of the coefficent estimates
  • fitted_values’: The fitted explanatory variables
  • number_iterations’: The number of Fisher Scoring iterations
>>> my_summary['model_parameters']

array([[ 15.04290165],
       [ -0.23216274]])

>>> my_summary['covariance_matrix']

array([[ 54.4442749 ,  -0.79638683],
       [ -0.79638683,   0.01171514]])

>>> my_summary['fitted_values']

array([[ 0.43049313],
       [ 0.22996826],
       [ 0.27362105],
       [ 0.32209405],
       [ 0.37472428],
       [ 0.1580491 ],
       [ 0.12954602],
       [ 0.22996826],
       [ 0.85931657],
       [ 0.60268105],
       [ 0.22996826],
       [ 0.04454055],
       [ 0.37472428],
       [ 0.93924781],
       [ 0.37472428],
       [ 0.08554356],
       [ 0.22996826],
       [ 0.02270329],
       [ 0.06904407],
       [ 0.03564141],
       [ 0.08554356],
       [ 0.06904407],
       [ 0.82884484]])

>>> my_summary['number_iterations']


So for the Challenger dataset, our implementation of the Fisher Scoring algorithm yields a \(\hat{\beta}_{0} = 15.0429016\) and \(\hat{\beta}_{1} = -0.2321627\). In order to predict new probabilities of O-Ring Failure based on temperature, our model implies the following formula:

$$ \pi = \frac {e^{15.0429016 -0.2321627 * Temperature}}{1 + e^{15.0429016 -0.2321627 * Temperature}} $$

Negative coefficents correspond to variables that are negatively correlated to the probability of a positive outcome, with the reverse being true for positive coefficents.

Lets compare the results of our Fisher Scoring algorithm with the output of scikit-learn’s linear_model.LogisticRegression class using the same dataset:

import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
from sklearn.linear_model import LogisticRegression


# read dataset with pandas =>
df = pd.read_csv("Challenger.csv")

# design matrix must be 2-dimensional, so we call reshape =>
X = df[['TEMPERATURE']].values.reshape(len(df[['TEMPERATURE']]), 1)

# `np.ravel` flattens a nested sequence =>
y = np.ravel(df[['O_RING_FAILURE']].values)

lr = LogisticRegression(C=1e10, intercept_scaling=200)
lr.fit(X, y)

params = np.array([lr.intercept_, lr.coef_])

# returns:
array([[ 15.04289075], [ -0.23216258]])

The coefficent estimates generated by scikit-learn’s linear_model.LogisticRegression are very close to those returned by our Fisher Scoring implementation (\(\hat{\beta}_0 = 15.0429016\) and \(\hat{\beta}_1 =-0.2321627\)).

A quick note about the arguments passed to the LogisticRegression class:

scikit-learn’s linear models include regularization by default. The regularization parameter allows for controlling the trade-off between the fit to the data and generalization to future unknown data, and in the LogisticRegression class, C is this parameter. Since we want the standard error function to serve as our cost function, setting C to a very large value essentially negates the influence of the regularization parameter on our coefficient estimates. intercept_scaling serves a similiar purpose. To learn more about the LogisticRegression class initialization parameters, check out the linear_model.LogisticRegression documentation page.

To create a list of explanatory variable-fitted probability pairs, run the following:

# predicted probabilities for `X` =>
fitted_probs = np.ravel(lr.predict_proba(X)[:,[1]]).tolist()

# flattened X-values =>
xvals = np.ravel(X).tolist()

fitted_pairs = list(zip(xvals, fitted_probs))


[(66, 0.4304930563884877),
 (70, 0.22996831652689573),
 (69, 0.27362108897825554),
 (68, 0.32209405642318906),
 (67, 0.3747242419645074),
 (72, 0.15804918927261258),
 (73, 0.12954611461881435),
 (70, 0.22996831652689573),
 (57, 0.8593163615383961),
 (63, 0.60268086115142),
 (70, 0.22996831652689573),
 (78, 0.04454061498466786),
 (67, 0.3747242419645074),
 (53, 0.9392476723456893),
 (67, 0.3747242419645074),
 (75, 0.08554364438644661),
 (70, 0.22996831652689573),
 (81, 0.02270333247612705),
 (76, 0.06904415511953753),
 (79, 0.03564146745997936),
 (75, 0.08554364438644661),
 (76, 0.06904415511953753),
 (58, 0.8288446174645678)]

A feature of Logistic Regression is that the training data’s marginal probabilities are preserved. If you aggregate the fitted values from the training set, that quanity will equal the number of positive outcomes in the response vector:

# checking marginal sum for sklearn Logistic Regression model =>
>>> sum(i[1] for i in fitted_pairs)

# checking sum for Fisher Scoring algorithm =>
>>> sum(my_summary['fitted_values'])


This post shed some light on the estimation routines that can be utilized in determining Logistic Regression coefficients, and walked through the mathematical justification. In addition, we briefly explored scikit-learn’s linear_model API, and demonstrated two distinct estimation approaches which arrived at the same set of coefficients. For those who are interested, scikit-learn exposes a huge amount of functionality with thorough, easy-to-follow documentation that’s full of straightforward examples. Get started here. Until next time, happy coding!


[1] - Agresti, A. (2002). Categorical Data Analysis (2nd Ed.)