Cancún, ISBA 2014 [day #0]

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2014 by xi'an

Day zero at ISBA 2014! The relentless heat outside (making running an ordeal, even at 5:30am…) made the (air-conditioned) conference centre the more attractive. Jean-Michel Marin and I had a great morning teaching our ABC short course and we do hope the ABC class audience had one as well. Teaching in pair is much more enjoyable than single as we can interact with one another as well as the audience. And realising unsuspected difficulties with the material is much easier this way, as the (mostly) passive instructor can spot the class’ reactions. This reminded me of the course we taught together in Oulu, northern Finland, in 2004 and that ended as the Bayesian Core. We did not cover the entire material we have prepared for this short course, but I think the pace was the right one. (Just tell me otherwise if you were there!) This was also the only time I had given a course wearing sunglasses, thanks to yesterday’s incident!

Waiting for a Spanish speaking friend to kindly drive with me downtown Cancún to check whether or not an optician could make me new prescription glasses, I attended Jim Berger’s foundational lecture on frequentist properties of Bayesian procedures but could only listen as the slides were impossible for me to read, with or without glasses. The partial overlap with the Varanasi lecture helped. I alas had to skip both Gareth Roberts’ and Sylvia Früwirth-Schnatter’s lectures, apologies to both of them!, but the reward was to get a new pair of prescription glasses within a few hours. Perfectly suited to my vision! And to get back just in time to read slides during Peter Müller’s lecture from the back row! Thanks to my friend Sophie for her negotiating skills! Actually, I am still amazed at getting glasses that quickly, given the time it would have taken in, e.g., France. All set for another 15 years with the same pair?! Only if I do not go swimming with them in anything but a quiet swimming pool!

The starting dinner happened to coincide with the (second) ISBA Fellow Award ceremony. Jim acted as the grand master of ceremony and he did great to add life and side stories to the written nominations for each and everyone of the new Fellows. The Fellowships honoured Bayesian statisticians who had contributed to the field as researchers and to the society since its creation. I thus feel very honoured (and absolutely undeserving) to be included in this prestigious list, along with many friends.  (But would have loved to see two more former ISBA presidents included, esp. for their massive contribution to Bayesian theory and methodology…) And also glad to wear regular glasses instead of my morning sunglasses.

[My Internet connection during the meeting being abysmally poor, the posts will appear with some major delay! In particular, I cannot include new pictures at times I get a connection...]

another R new trick [new for me!]

Posted in Books, Kids, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on July 16, 2014 by xi'an

La Defense, Dec. 10, 2010While working with Andrew and a student from Dauphine on importance sampling, we wanted to assess the distribution of the resulting sample via the Kolmogorov-Smirnov measure

\max_x |\hat{F_n}(x)-F(x)|

where F is the target.  This distance (times √n) has an asymptotic distribution that does not depend on n, called the Kolmogorov distribution. After searching for a little while, we could not figure where this distribution was available in R. It had to, since ks.test was returning a p-value. Hopefully correct! So I looked into the ks.test function, which happens not to be entirely programmed in C, and found the line

PVAL <- 1 - if (alternative == "two.sided") 
                .Call(C_pKolmogorov2x, STATISTIC, n)

which means that the Kolmogorov distribution is coded as a C function C_pKolmogorov2x in R. However, I could not call the function myself.

> .Call(C_pKolmogorov2x,.3,4)
Error: object 'C_pKolmogorov2x' not found

Hence, as I did not want to recode this distribution cdf, I posted the question on stackoverflow (long time no see!) and got a reply almost immediately as to use the package kolmim. Followed by the extra comment from the same person that calling the C code only required to add the path to its name, as in

> .Call(stats:::C_pKolmogorov2x,STAT=.3,n=4)
[1] 0.2292

Cancun sunrise

Posted in pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , on July 15, 2014 by xi'an


implementing reproducible research [short book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, R, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2014 by xi'an

As promised, I got back to this book, Implementing reproducible research (after the pigeons had their say). I looked at it this morning while monitoring my students taking their last-chance R exam (definitely last chance as my undergraduate R course is not reconoduced next year). The book is in fact an edited collection of papers on tools, principles, and platforms around the theme of reproducible research. It obviously links with other themes like open access, open data, and open software. All positive directions that need more active support from the scientific community. In particular the solutions advocated through this volume are mostly Linux-based. Among the tools described in the first chapter, knitr appears as an alternative to sweave. I used the later a while ago and while I like its philosophy. it does not extend to situations where the R code within takes too long to run… (Or maybe I did not invest enough time to grasp the entire spectrum of sweave.) Note that, even though the book is part of the R Series of CRC Press, many chapters are unrelated to R. And even more [unrelated] to statistics.

This limitation is somewhat my difficulty with [adhering to] the global message proposed by the book. It is great to construct such tools that monitor and archive successive versions of code and research, as anyone can trace back the research steps conducting to the published result(s). Using some of the platforms covered by the book establishes for instance a superb documentation principle, going much further than just providing an “easy” verification tool against fraudulent experiments. The notion of a super-wiki where notes and preliminary versions and calculations (and dead ends and failures) would be preserved for open access is just as great. However this type of research processing and discipline takes time and space and human investment, i.e. resources that are sparse and costly. Complex studies may involve enormous amounts of data and, neglecting the notions of confidentiality and privacy, the cost of storing such amounts is significant. Similarly for experiments that require days and weeks of huge clusters. I thus wonder where those resources would be found (journals, universities, high tech companies, …?) for the principle to hold in full generality and how transient they could prove. One cannot expect the research time to garantee availability of those meta-documents for remote time horizons. Just as a biased illustration, checking the available Bayes’ notebooks meant going to a remote part of London at a specific time and with a preliminary appointment. Those notebooks are not available on line for free. But for how long?

“So far, Bob has been using Charlie’s old computer, using Ubuntu 10.04. The next day, he is excited to find the new computer Alice has ordered for him has arrived. He installs Ubuntu 12.04″ A. Davison et al.

Putting their principles into practice, the authors of Implementing reproducible research have made all chapters available for free on the Open Science Framework. I thus encourage anyone interesting in those principles (and who would not be?!) to peruse the chapters and see how they can benefit from and contribute to open and reproducible research.

arrived in Cancún

Posted in Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , on July 14, 2014 by xi'an

Mexico1After an uneventful trip from Paris, we landed to the heat and humidity just a day before our ABC course. Much too hot and too humid for my taste, so I am looking forward spending my days in the conference centre. Hopefully, it will get cool enough to go running in the early morning…


Most unfortunately, when trying to get a taste of the water last night, I almost immediately lost my prescription glasses to a big wave and am forced to move around the conference wearing sunglasses…. or looking lost and not recognizing anyone! What a bummer!

adaptive equi-energy sampling

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , on July 14, 2014 by xi'an

Today, I took part in the thesis defence of Amandine Shreck at Telecom-ParisTech. I had commented a while ago on the Langevin algorithm for discontinuous targets she developed with co-authors from that school towards variable selection. The thesis also contains material on the equi-energy sampler that is worth mentioning. The algorithm relates to the Wang-Landau algorithm last discussed here for the seminars of Pierre and Luke in Paris, last month. The algorithm aims at facilitating the moves around the target density by favouring moves from one energy level to the next. As explained to me by Pierre once again after his seminar, the division of the space according to the target values is a way to avoid creating artificial partitions over the sampling space. A sort of Lebesgue version of Monte Carlo integration. The energy bands

\{\theta;\ \underline{\pi}\le \pi(\theta) \le \overline{\pi}

require the choice of a sequence of bounds on the density, values that are hardly available prior to the simulation of the target. The paper corresponding to this part of the thesis (and published in our special issue of TOMACS last year) thus considers the extension when the bounds are defined on the go, in a adaptive way. This could be achieved based on earlier simulations, using some quantiles of the observed values of the target but this is  a costly solution which requires to keep an ordered sample of the density values. (Is it that costly?!) Thus the authors prefer to determine the energy levels in a cheaper adaptive manner. Namely, through a Robbins-Monro/stochastic approximation type update of the bounds,

\xi_{n+1m\alpha}=\xi_{n,\alpha}+\gamma_n(\alpha-\mathbb{I}\{\pi(\theta_n)\le \xi_{n,\alpha}\}\,.

My questions related with this part of the thesis were about the actual gain if any in computing time versus efficiency, the limitations in terms of curse of dimension and storage, the connections with the Wang-Landau algorithm and pseudo-marginal approximations, and the (degree of) likelihood of an universal and automatised adaptive equi-energy sampler.

no ISBA 2016 in Banff…

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2014 by xi'an

Banff west-northern range from Rundle, Sept. 10, 2010Alas, thrice alas, the bid we made right after the Banff workshop with Scott Schmidler, and Steve Scott for holding the next World ISBA Conference in 2016 in Banff, Canada was unsuccessful. This is a sad and unforeseen item of news as we thought Banff had a heap of enticing features as a dream location for the next meeting… Although I cannot reveal the location of the winner, I can mention it is much more traditional (in the sense of the Valencia meetings), i.e. much more mare than monti… Since it is in addition organised by friends and in a country I love, I do not feel particularly aggravated. Especially when considering we will not have to organise anything then!


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