P-splines with derivative based penalties and tensor product smoothing of unevenly distributed data

Simon N. Wood*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
460 Downloads (Pure)


The P-splines of Eilers and Marx (Stat Sci 11:89–121, 1996) combine a B-spline basis with a discrete quadratic penalty on the basis coefficients, to produce a reduced rank spline like smoother. P-splines have three properties that make them very popular as reduced rank smoothers: (i) the basis and the penalty are sparse, enabling efficient computation, especially for Bayesian stochastic simulation; (ii) it is possible to flexibly ‘mix-and-match’ the order of B-spline basis and penalty, rather than the order of penalty controlling the order of the basis as in spline smoothing; (iii) it is very easy to set up the B-spline basis functions and penalties. The discrete penalties are somewhat less interpretable in terms of function shape than the traditional derivative based spline penalties, but tend towards penalties proportional to traditional spline penalties in the limit of large basis size. However part of the point of P-splines is not to use a large basis size. In addition the spline basis functions arise from solving functional optimization problems involving derivative based penalties, so moving to discrete penalties for smoothing may not always be desirable. The purpose of this note is to point out that the three properties of basis-penalty sparsity, mix-and-match penalization and ease of setup are readily obtainable with B-splines subject to derivative based penalization. The penalty setup typically requires a few lines of code, rather than the two lines typically required for P-splines, but this one off disadvantage seems to be the only one associated with using derivative based penalties. As an example application, it is shown how basis-penalty sparsity enables efficient computation with tensor product smoothers of scattered data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)985-989
Number of pages5
JournalStatistics and Computing
Issue number4
Early online date18 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


  • Derivative penalty
  • P-spline
  • Reduced rank spline
  • Smoothing spline
  • Tensor product smooth


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  • Transfer from Bath

    Wood, S.


    Project: Research

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