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This question is more precisely about evaluation with a computer, of a binomial coefficient of the form $ \binom{x}{m}$ where $x$ is a real number and $m$ a rational integer.

The reason why I ask is that I found out recently that sage is using the naive definition with the $\Gamma$ function, which means that it gets as a result NaN (not-a-number) with quite small parameters, for which the real result is pretty reasonable and should have been given (see the bug report).

I have proposed to change the implementation by returning zero in more cases than it already does, to reduce to a situation $\binom{x}{m}$ with $x\geq m\geq 0$, so we can write $x=m+k+u$ with $k$ a natural integer and $u\in[0;1[$, then computing the quotient $\Gamma(x+1)/\Gamma(m+1)$ with a Pochhammer symbol times the quotient $\Gamma(m+1+u)/\Gamma(m+1)$. For that last quotient, I was proposing a direct computation for small $m$ and a polynomial expansion in $u$ for big $m$.

There are two problems with this approach:

  • I don't really know how big the error is, which for a numerical computation is a pretty big issue ;
  • I used the naive code as a starting point, and added naive ideas to the mix : there may exist better approaches (it's also because of this point that I didn't try to evaluate the error more precisely).

It would be surprising if there existed no algorithm for this kind of computations, given how important those coefficients are in various situations...

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This question might be better suited for scicomp.stackexchange.com . –  Emil Jeřábek Feb 8 '12 at 15:10
Well, discussing a specific implementation might be better suited elsewhere, but a general discussion on algorithms seemed appropriate here. –  Julien Puydt Feb 8 '12 at 15:36
Does sage do better if you ask it to compute the beta function of the appropriate arguments? –  Igor Rivin Feb 9 '12 at 15:04
As I said, I'm more interested in discussing better algorithms than a specific implementation : I mostly wanted to explain why I came up with the question. And I'm not sure it has beta... and it's difficult to tell with such a name :-/ –  Julien Puydt Feb 9 '12 at 18:20
How about using the log-gamma function, and use subtraction instead of division? –  Luis Mendo Sep 30 '13 at 11:44
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