This year is my daughter’s final year in high school and she is now taking the dreaded baccalauréat exams. Just like a few hundred thousands French students. With “just like” in the strict sense since all students with the same major take the very same exam all over France… The first written composition is in the “mother of all disciplines”, philosophy, and the theme of one dissertation this year was “do we live to be happy?”. Which suited well my daughter as she was hoping for a question around that theme. She managed to quote Plato and Buddha, The Pursuit of Happiness and The Wolf of Wall-street… So sounded happy enough with her essay. This seemed indeed like a rather safe notion (as opposed to ethics, religion, politics or work), with enough material to fill a classical thesis-antithesis-synthesis plan (and my personal materialistic conclusion about the lack of predetermination in our lifes).
Archive for France
For those interested in visiting Toulouse at the end of the summer for a French speaking conference in Probability and Statistics, the Modélisation-Aléatoire-Statistique branch of SMAI (the French version of SIAM) is holding its yearly conference. The main theme this year is “High dimension phenomena”, but a large panel of the French research in Probability and Statistics will be represented. The program contains in particular:
- Six plenary conferences and 3 talks by the recent winners of the “Prix Jacques Neveu” award [including Pierre Jacob!],
- 22 parallel sessions, from probability theory to applied statistics and machine learning,
- Posters session for students
More detail is available on the conference website (in French). (The organizing committee is made of Aurélien Garivier, Sébastien Gerchinovitz, Aldéric Joulin, Clément Pellegrini, and Laurent Risser.)
On Tuesday, there was a series of talks (in French) celebrating Statistics, with an introduction by Cédric Villani. (The talks are reproduced on the French Statistical Society (SFDS) webpage.) Rather unpredictably (!), Villani starts from an early 20th Century physics experiment leading to the estimation of the Avogadro constant from a series of integers. (Repeating an earlier confusion of his, he substitutes the probability of observing a rare event under the null with the probability of the alternative on the Higgs boson to be true!) A special mention to/of Francis Galton’s “supreme law of unreason”. And of surveys, pointing out the wide variability of a result for standard survey populations. But missing the averaging and more statistical effect of accumulating surveys, a principle at the core of Nate Silver‘s predictions. A few words again about the Séralini et al. experiments on Monsanto genetically modified maize NK603, attacked for their lack of statistical foundations. And then, hear hear!, much more than a mere mention of phylogenetic inference, with explanations about inverse inference, Markov Chain Monte Carlo algorithms on trees, convergence of Metropolis algorithms by Persi Diaconis, and Bayesian computations! Of course, this could be seen more as numerical probability than as truly statistics, but it is still pleasant to hear.
The last part of the talk more predictably links Villani’s own field of optimal transportation (which I would translate as a copula problem…) and statistics, mostly understood as empirical distributions. I find it somewhat funny that Sanov’s theorem is deemed therein to be a (or even the) Statistics theorem! I wonder how many statisticians could state this theorem… The same remark applies for the Donsker-Varadhan theory of large deviations. Still, the very final inequality linking the three types of information concepts is just… beautiful! You may spot in the last minute a micro confusion in repeating twice the definition for Fisher’s information rather than deducing that the information associated with a location family is constant. (And a no-so-necessary mention of the Cramer-Rao bound on unbiased estimators. Which could have been quoted as the Fréchet-Darmois-Cramer-Rao bound in such historical grounds ) A pleasant moment, all in all! (There are five other talks on that page, including one by Emmanuel Candés.)
MCMSki IV is about to start! While further participants may still register (registration is still open!), we are currently 223 registered participants, without accompanying people. I do hope most of these managed to reach the town of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc despite the foul weather on the East Coast. Unfortunately, three speakers (so far) cannot make it: Yugo Chen (Urbana-Champaign), David Hunter (Penn State), Georgios Karagiannis (Toronto), and Liam Paninski (New York). Nial Friel will replace David Hunter and give a talk on Noisy MCMC.
First, the posters for tonight session (A to K authors) should be posted today (before dinner) on the boards at the end of the main lecture theatre. And removed tonight as well. Check my wordpress blog for the abstracts. (When I mentioned there was no deadline for sending abstracts, I did not expect getting one last Friday!)
Second, I remind potential skiers that the most manageable option is to ski on the Brévent domain, uphill from the conference centre. There is even a small rental place facing the cable-car station (make sure to phone +33450535264 to check they still have skis available) and renting storage closets…