off to Bangalore

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , on July 26, 2014 by xi'an

I am off to Bangalore for a few days, taking part in an Indo-French workshop on statistics and mathematical biology run by the Indo-French Centre for Applied Mathematics (IFCAM).

art brut

Posted in pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , on July 26, 2014 by xi'an


a statistical test for nested sampling

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , on July 25, 2014 by xi'an

A new arXival on nested sampling: “A statistical test for nested sampling algorithms” by Johannes Buchner. The point of the test is to check if versions of the nested sampling algorithm that fail to guarantee increased likelihood (or nesting) at each step are not missing parts of the posterior mass. and hence producing biased evidence approximations. This applies to MultiNest for instance. This version of nest sampling evaluates the above-threshold region by drawing hyper-balls around the remaining points. A solution which is known to fail in one specific but meaningful case. Buchner’s  arXived paper proposes an hyper-pyramid distribution for which the volume of any likelihood constrained set is known. Hence allowing for a distribution test like Kolmogorov-Smirnov. Confirming the findings of Beaujean and Caldwell (2013). The author then proposes an alternative to MultiNest that is more robust but also much more costly as it computes distances between all pairs of bootstrapped samples. This solution passes the so-called “shrinkage test”, but it is orders of magnitude less efficient than MultiNest. And also simply shows that its coverage is fine for a specific target rather than all possible targets. I wonder if a solution to the problem is at all possible given that evaluating a support or a convex hull is a complex problem which complexity explodes with the dimension.

ABC in Sydney [guest post #2]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , on July 24, 2014 by xi'an

[Here is a second guest post on the ABC in Sydney workshop, written by Chris Drovandi]

First up Dennis Prangle presented his recent work on “Lazy ABC”, which can speed up ABC by potentially abandoning model simulations early that do not look promising. Dennis introduces a continuation probability to ensure that the target distribution of the approach is still the ABC target of interest. In effect, the ABC likelihood is estimated to be 0 if early stopping is performed otherwise the usual ABC likelihood is inflated by dividing by the continuation probability, ensuring an unbiased estimator of the ABC likelihood. The drawback is that the ESS (Dennis uses importance sampling) of the lazy approach will likely be less than usual ABC for a fixed number of simulations; but this should be offset by the reduction in time required to perform said simulations. Dennis also presented some theoretical work for optimally tuning the method, which I need more time to digest.
This was followed by my talk on Bayesian indirect inference methods that use a parametric auxiliary model (a slightly older version here). This paper has just been accepted by Statistical Science.
Morning tea was followed by my PhD student, Brenda Vo, who presented an interesting application of ABC to cell spreading experiments. Here an estimate of the diameter of the cell population was used as a summary statistic. It was noted after Brenda’s talk that this application might be a good candidate for Dennis’ Lazy ABC idea. This talk was followed by a much more theoretical presentation by Pierre del Moral on how particle filter methodologies can be adapted to the ABC setting and also a general framework for particle methods.
Following lunch, Guilherme Rodrigues presented a hierarchical Gaussian Process model for kernel density estimation in the presence of different subgroups. Unfortunately my (lack of) knowledge on non-parametric methods prevents me from making any further comment except that the model looked very interesting and ABC seemed a good candidate for calibrating the model. I look forward to the paper appearing on-line.
The next presentation was by Gael Martin who spoke about her research on using ABC for estimation of complex state space models. This was probably my favourite talk of the day, and not only because it is very close to my research interests. Here the score of the Euler discretised approximation of the generative model was used as summary statistics for ABC. From what I could gather, it was demonstrated that the ABC posterior based on the score or the MLE of the auxiliary model were the same in the limit as ε 0 (unless I have mis-interpreted). This is a very useful result in itself; using the score to avoid an optimisation required for the MLE can save a lot of computation. The improved approximations of the proposed approach compared with the results that use the likelihood of the Euler discretisation were quite promising. I am certainly looking forward to this paper coming out.
Matt Moores drew the short straw and had the final presentation on the Friday afternoon. Matt spoke about this paper (an older version is available here), of which I am now a co-author. Matt’s idea is that doing some pre-simulations across the prior space and determining a mapping between the parameter of interest and the mean and variance of the summary statistic can significantly speed up ABC for the Potts model, and potentially other ABC applications. The results of the pre-computation step are used in the main ABC algorithm, which no longer requires simulation of pseudo-data but rather a summary statistic can be simulated from the fitted auxiliary model in the pre-processing step. Whilst this approach does introduce a couple more layers of approximation, the gain in computation time was up to two orders of magnitude. The talks by Matt, Gael and myself gave a real indirect inference flavour to this year’s ABC in…

Cancún, ISBA 2014 [day #3]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , on July 23, 2014 by xi'an

Cancun13…already Thursday, our [early] departure day!, with an nth (!) non-parametric session that saw [the newly elected ISBA Fellow!] Judith Rousseau present an ongoing work with Chris Holmes on the convergence or non-convergence conditions for a Bayes factor of a non-parametric hypothesis against another non-parametric. I wondered at the applicability of this test as the selection criterion in ABC settings, even though having an iid sample to start with is a rather strong requirement.

Switching between a scalable computation session with Alex Beskos, who talked about adaptive Langevin algorithms for differential equations, and a non-local prior session, with David Rossell presenting a smoother way to handle point masses in order to accommodate frequentist coverage. Something we definitely need to discuss the next time I am in Warwick! Although this made me alas miss both the first talk of the non-local session by Shane Jensen  the final talk of the scalable session by Doug Vandewrken where I happened to be quoted (!) for my warning about discretising Markov chains into non-Markov processes. In the 1998 JASA paper with Chantal Guihenneuc.

After a farewell meal of ceviche with friends in the sweltering humidity of a local restaurant, I attended [the newly elected ISBA Fellow!] Maria Vanucci’s talk on her deeply involved modelling of fMRI. The last talk before the airport shuttle was François Caron’s description of a joint work with Emily Fox on a sparser modelling of networks, along with an auxiliary variable approach that allowed for parallelisation of a Gibbs sampler. François mentioned an earlier alternative found in machine learning where all components of a vector are updated simultaneously conditional on the previous avatar of the other components, e.g. simulating (x’,y’) from π(x’|y) π(y’|x) which does not produce a convergent Markov chain. At least not convergent to the right stationary. However, running a quick [in-flight] check on a 2-d normal target did not show any divergent feature, when compared with the regular Gibbs sampler. I thus wonder at what can be said about the resulting target or which conditions are need for divergence. A few scribbles later, I realised that the 2-d case was the exception, namely that the stationary distribution of the chain is the product of the marginal. However, running a 3-d example with an auto-exponential distribution in the taxi back home, I still could not spot a difference in the outcome.

Off from Cancun [los scientificos Maya]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , on July 22, 2014 by xi'an

Maya1The flight back from ISBA 2014 was not as smooth as the flight in: it took one hour for the shuttle to take us to the airport thanks to a driver posing as a touristic guide [who needs a guide when going home?!] and droning on and on about Cancún and the Maya heritage [as far as I could guess from his Spanish]. Learning at the airport that out flight to Mexico City was delayed, then too delayed for us to make the connection, with no hotel room available there, then suggesting to the desk personal every possible European city to learn the flight had left or was about to leave, missing London by an hair, thanks to our droning friend on the scientific Mayas, and eventually being bused to the hotel airport, too far from the last poster session we could have attended!, and leaving early the next morning to Atlanta and then Paris. Which means we could have stayed for most of the remaining sessions and been back home at about the same time…

Gallo Zinfandel

Posted in Kids, Wines with tags , , , on July 20, 2014 by xi'an



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