Models for complex biological systems may involve a large number of parameters. It may well be that some of these parameters cannot be derived from observed data via regression techniques. Such parameters are said to be unidentifiable, the remaining parameters being identifiable. Closely related to this idea is that of redundancy, that a set of parameters can be expressed in terms of some smaller set. Before data is analysed it is critical to determine which model parameters are identifiable or redundant to avoid ill-defined and poorly convergent regression.
In this paper we outline general considerations on parameter identifiability, and introduce the notion of weak local identifiability and gradient weak local identifiability. These are based on local properties of the likelihood, in particular the rank of the Hessian matrix. We relate these to the notions of parameter identifiability and redundancy previously introduced by Rothenberg (Econometrica 39 (1971) 577–591) and Catchpole and Morgan (Biometrika 84 (1997) 187–196). Within the widely used exponential family, parameter irredundancy, local identifiability, gradient weak local identifiability and weak local identifiability are shown to be largely equivalent. We consider applications to a recently developed class of cancer models of Little and Wright (Math Biosciences 183 (2003) 111–134) and Little et al. (J Theoret Biol 254 (2008) 229–238) that generalize a large number of other recently used quasi-biological cancer models.
We have shown that the previously developed concepts of parameter local identifiability and redundancy are closely related to the apparently weaker properties of weak local identifiability and gradient weak local identifiability—within the widely used exponential family these concepts largely coincide.