## a pseudo-marginal perspective on the ABC algorithm

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2014 by xi'an

My friends Luke Bornn, Natesh Pillai and Dawn Woodard just arXived along with Aaron Smith a short note on the convergence properties of ABC. When compared with acceptance-rejection or regular MCMC. Unsurprisingly, ABC does worse in both cases. What is central to this note is that ABC can be (re)interpreted as a pseudo-marginal method where the data comparison step acts like an unbiased estimator of the true ABC target (not of the original ABC target, mind!). From there, it is mostly an application of Christophe Andrieu’s and Matti Vihola’s results in this setup. The authors also argue that using a single pseudo-data simulation per parameter value is the optimal strategy (as compared with using several), when considering asymptotic variance. This makes sense in terms of simulating in a larger dimensional space but what of the cost of producing those pseudo-datasets against the cost of producing a new parameter? There are a few (rare) cases where the datasets are much cheaper to produce.

## MCKSki 5, where willst thou be?!

Posted in Mountains, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2014 by xi'an

[Here is a call from the BayesComp Board for proposals for MCMSki 5, renamed as below to fit the BayesComp section. The earlier poll on the 'Og helped shape the proposal, with the year, 2016 vs. 2017, remaining open. I just added town to resort below as it did not sound from the poll people were terribly interested in resorts.]

The Bayesian Computation Section of ISBA is soliciting proposals to host its flagship conference:

### Bayesian Computing at MCMSki

The expectation is that the meeting will be held in January 2016, but the committee will consider proposals for other times through January 2017.

This meeting will be the next incarnation of the popular MCMSki series that addresses recent advances in the theory and application of Bayesian computational methods such as MCMC, all in the context of a world-class ski resort/town. While past meetings have taken place in the Alps and the Rocky Mountains, we encourage applications from any venue that could support MCMSki. A three-day meeting is planned, perhaps with an additional day or two of satellite meetings and/or short courses.

One page proposals should address feasibility of hosting the meeting including

1. Proposed dates.
2. Transportation for international participants (both the proximity of international airports and transportation to/from the venue).
3. The conference facilities.
4. The availability and cost of hotels, including low cost options.
5. The proposed local organizing committee and their collective experience organizing international meetings.
6. Expected or promised contributions from the host organization, host country, or industrial partners towards the cost of running the meetings.

Proposals should be submitted to David van Dyk (dvandyk, BayesComp Program Chair) at imperial.ac.uk no later than May 31, 2014.

The Board of Bayesian Computing Section will evaluate the proposals, choose a venue, and appoint the Program Committee for Bayesian Computing at MCMSki.

## moonrise over Chamonix

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2014 by xi'an

## tramway du Mont-Blanc

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , on January 10, 2014 by xi'an

## MCMSki IV [prizes]

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2014 by xi'an

Congratulations to the MCMSki IV poster prize winners:

who each received two books from those kindly sent by Academic Press, CRC Press, and Springer-Verlag. (Except one of the above who should contact me for delivering her/him the dedicated books!) And to the honourable mention winners:

And to the members of the jury who worked hard both evening to produce this set of winners… Congrats too to Mina Vekhala from Helsinki who left the banquet with a pair of Blossom skis, thanks to a random draw from U({1,…,188}) of a dinner participant. She was 154th on the list and this number came out first. (Renewed thanks to Blossom skis for their generosity!)

## MCMSki IV [day 3]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, R, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2014 by xi'an

Already on the final day..! And still this frustration in being unable to attend three sessions at once… Andrew Gelman started the day with a non-computational talk that broached on themes that are familiar to readers of his blog, on the misuse of significance tests and on recommendations for better practice. I then picked the Scaling and optimisation of MCMC algorithms session organised by Gareth Roberts, with optimal scaling talks by Tony Lelièvre, Alex Théry and Chris Sherlock, while Jochen Voss spoke about the convergence rate of ABC, a paper I already discussed on the blog. A fairly exciting session showing that MCMC’ory (name of a workshop I ran in Paris in the late 90’s!) is still well and alive!

After the break (sadly without the ski race!), the software round-table session was something I was looking for. The four softwares covered by this round-table were BUGS, JAGS, STAN, and BiiPS, each presented according to the same pattern. I would have like to see a “battle of the bands”, illustrating pros & cons for each language on a couple of models & datasets. STAN got the officious prize for cool tee-shirts (we should have asked the STAN team for poster prize tee-shirts). And I had to skip the final session for a flu-related doctor appointment…

I called for a BayesComp meeting at 7:30, hoping for current and future members to show up and discuss the format of the future MCMski meetings, maybe even proposing new locations on other “sides of the Italian Alps”! But (workshop fatigue syndrome?!), no-one showed up. So anyone interested in discussing this issue is welcome to contact me or David van Dyk, the new BayesComp program chair.

## MCMSki [day 2]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2014 by xi'an

I was still feeling poorly this morning with my brain in a kind of flu-induced haze so could not concentrate for a whole talk, which is a shame as I missed most of the contents of the astrostatistics session put together by David van Dyk… Especially the talk by Roberto Trotta I was definitely looking for. And the defence of nested sampling strategies for marginal likelihood approximations. Even though I spotted posterior distributions for WMAP and Plank data on the ΛCDM that reminded me of our own work in this area… Apologies thus to all speakers for dozing in and out, it was certainly not due to a lack of interest!

Sebastian Seehars mentioned emcee (for ensemble Monte Carlo), with a corresponding software nicknamed “the MCMC hammer”, and their own CosmoHammer software. I read the paper by Goodman and Ware (2010) this afternoon during the ski break (if not on a ski lift!). Actually, I do not understand why an MCMC should be affine invariant: a good adaptive MCMC sampler should anyway catch up the right scale of the target distribution. Other than that, the ensemble sampler reminds me very much of the pinball sampler we developed with Kerrie Mengersen (1995 Valencia meeting), where the target is the product of L targets,

$\pi(x_1)\cdots\pi(x_L)$

and a Gibbs-like sampler can be constructed, moving one component (with index k, say) of the L-sample at a time. (Just as in the pinball sampler.) Rather than avoiding all other components (as in the pinball sampler), Goodman and Ware draw a single other component at random  (with index j, say) and make a proposal away from it:

$\eta=x_j(t) + \zeta \{x_k(t)-x_j(t)\}$

where ζ is a scale random variable with (log-) symmetry around 1. The authors claim improvement over a single track Metropolis algorithm, but it of course depends on the type of Metropolis algorithms that is chosen… Overall, I think the criticism of the pinball sampler also applies here: using a product of targets can only slow down the convergence. Further, the affine structure of the target support is not a given. Highly constrained settings should not cope well with linear transforms and non-linear reparameterisations would be more efficient….