Archive for minimaxity

reading classics (#9,10)

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2014 by xi'an

La Défense from Paris-Dauphine, Nov. 15, 2012Today was the very last session of our Reading Classics Seminar for the academic year 2013-2014. We listened two presentations, one on the Casella and Strawderman (1984) paper on the estimation of the normal bounded mean. And one on the Hartigan and Wong’s 1979 K-Means Clustering Algorithm paper in JRSS C. The first presentation did not go well as my student had difficulties with the maths behind the paper. (As he did not come to ask me or others for help, it may well be that he put this talk together at the last minute, at a time busy with finals and project deliveries. He also failed to exploit those earlier presentations of the paper.) The innovative part in the talk was the presentation of several R simulations comparing the risk of the minimax Bayes estimator with the one for the MLE. Although the choice of simulating different samples of standard normals for different values of the parameters and even for both estimators made the curves (unnecessarily) all wiggly.

By contrast, the second presentation was very well-designed, with great Beamer slides, interactive features and a software oriented focus. My student Mouna Berrada started from the existing R function kmeans to explain the principles of the algorithm, recycling the interactive presentation of last year as well (with my permission), and creating a dynamic flowchart that was most helpful. So she made the best of this very short paper! Just (predictably) missing the question of the statistical model behind the procedure. During the discussion, I mused why k-medians clustering was not more popular as it offered higher robustness guarantees, albeit further away from a genuine statistical model. And why k-means clustering was not more systematically compared with mixture (EM) estimation.

Here are the slides for the second talk

uniformly most powerful Bayesian tests???

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on September 30, 2013 by xi'an

“The difficulty in constructing a Bayesian hypothesis test arises from the requirement to specify an alternative hypothesis.”

Vale Johnson published (and arXived) a paper in the Annals of Statistics on uniformly most powerful Bayesian tests. This is in line with earlier writings of Vale on the topic and good quality mathematical statistics, but I cannot really buy the arguments contained in the paper as being compatible with (my view of) Bayesian tests. A “uniformly most powerful Bayesian test” (acronymed as UMBT)  is defined as

“UMPBTs provide a new form of default, nonsubjective Bayesian tests in which the alternative hypothesis is determined so as to maximize the probability that a Bayes factor exceeds a specified threshold”

which means selecting the prior under the alternative so that the frequentist probability of the Bayes factor exceeding the threshold is maximal for all values of the parameter. This does not sound very Bayesian to me indeed, due to this averaging over all possible values of the observations x and comparing the probabilities for all values of the parameter θ rather than integrating against a prior or posterior and selecting the prior under the alternative with the sole purpose of favouring the alternative, meaning its further use when the null is rejected is not considered at all and catering to non-Bayesian theories, i.e. trying to sell Bayesian tools as supplementing p-values and arguing the method is objective because the solution satisfies a frequentist coverage (at best, this maximisation of the rejection probability reminds me of minimaxity, except there is no clear and generic notion of minimaxity in hypothesis testing).

Continue reading

mathematical statistics books with Bayesian chapters [incomplete book reviews]

Posted in Statistics, University life, Books with tags , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2013 by xi'an

I received (in the same box) two mathematical statistics books from CRC Press, Understanding Advanced Statistical Methods by Westfall and Henning, and Statistical Theory A Concise Introduction by Abramovich and Ritov. For review in CHANCE. While they are both decent books for teaching mathematical statistics at undergraduate borderline graduate level, I do not find enough of a novelty in them to proceed to a full review. (Given more time, I could have changed my mind about the first one.) Instead, I concentrate here on their processing of the Bayesian paradigm, which takes a wee bit more than a chapter in either of them. (And this can be done over a single métro trip!) The important following disclaimer applies: comparing both books is highly unfair in that it is only because I received them together. They do not necessarily aim at the same audience. And I did not read the whole of either of them.

First, the concise Statistical Theory  covers the topic in a fairly traditional way. It starts with a warning about the philosophical nature of priors and posteriors, which reflect beliefs rather than frequency limits (just like likelihoods, no?!). It then introduces priors with the criticism that priors are difficult to build and assess. The two classes of priors analysed in this chapter are unsurprisingly conjugate priors (which hyperparameters have to be determined or chosen or estimated in the empirical Bayes heresy [my words!, not the authors']) and “noninformative (objective) priors”.  The criticism of the flat priors is also traditional and leads to the  group invariant (Haar) measures, then to Jeffreys non-informative priors (with the apparent belief that Jeffreys only handled the univariate case). Point estimation is reduced to posterior expectations, confidence intervals to HPD regions, and testing to posterior probability ratios (with a warning about improper priors). Bayes rules make a reappearance in the following decision-theory chapter, as providers of both admissible and minimax estimators. This is it, as Bayesian techniques are not mentioned in the final “Linear Models” chapter. As a newcomer to statistics, I think I would be as bemused about Bayesian statistics as when I got my 15mn entry as a student, because here was a method that seemed to have a load of history, an inner coherence, and it was mentioned as an oddity in an otherwise purely non-Bayesian course. What good could this do to the understanding of the students?! So I would advise against getting this “token Bayesian” chapter in the book

“You are not ignorant! Prior information is what you know prior to collecting the data.” Understanding Advanced Statistical Methods (p.345)

Second, Understanding Advanced Statistical Methods offers a more intuitive entry, by justifying prior distributions as summaries of prior information. And observations as a mean to increase your knowledge about the parameter. The Bayesian chapter uses a toy but very clear survey examplew to illustrate the passage from prior to posterior distributions. And to discuss the distinction between informative and noninformative priors. (I like the “Ugly Rule of Thumb” insert, as it gives a guideline without getting too comfy about it… E.g., using a 90% credible interval is good enough on p.354.) Conjugate priors are mentioned as a result of past computational limitations and simulation is hailed as a highly natural tool for analysing posterior distributions. Yay! A small section discusses the purpose of vague priors without getting much into details and suggests to avoid improper priors by using “distributions with extremely large variance”, a concept we dismissed in Bayesian Core! For how large is “extremely large”?!

“You may end up being surprised to learn in later chapters (..) that, with classical methods, you simply cannot perform the types of analyses shown in this section (…) And that’s the answer to the question, “What good is Bayes?””Understanding Advanced Statistical Methods (p.345)

Then comes the really appreciable part, a section entitled “What good is Bayes?”—it actually reads “What Good is Bayes?” (p.359), leading to a private if grammatically poor joke since I.J. Good was one of the first modern Bayesians, working with Turing at Bletchley Park…—  The authors simply skip the philosophical arguments to give the reader a showcase of examples where the wealth of the Bayesian toolbox: logistic regression, VaR (Value at Risk), stock prices, drug profit prediction. Concluding with arguments in favour of the frequentist methods: (a) not requiring priors, (b) easier with generic distributifrequentistons, (c) easier to understand with simulation, and (d) easier to validate with validation. I do not mean to get into a debate about those points as my own point is that the authors are taking a certain stand about the pros and cons of the frequentist/Bayesian approaches and that they are making their readers aware of it. (Note that the Bayesian chapter comes before the frequentist chapter!) A further section is “Comparing the Bayesian and frequentist paradigms?” (p.384), again with a certain frequentist slant, but again making the distinctions and similarities quite clear to the reader. Of course, there is very little (if any) about Bayesian approaches in the next chapters but this is somehow coherent with the authors’ perspective. Once more, a perspective that is well-spelled and comprehensible for the reader. Even the novice statistician. In that sense, having a Bayesian chapter inside a general theory book makes sense.  (The second book has a rather detailed website, by the way! Even though handling simulations in Excel and drawing graphs in SAS could be dangerous to your health…)

top model choice week (#2)

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2013 by xi'an

La Défense and Maison-Lafitte from my office, Université Paris-Dauphine, Nov. 05, 2011Following Ed George (Wharton) and Feng Liang (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) talks today in Dauphine, Natalia Bochkina (University of Edinburgh) will  give a talk on Thursday, June 20, at 2pm in Room 18 at ENSAE (Malakoff) [not Dauphine!]. Here is her abstract:

2 am: Simultaneous local and global adaptivity of Bayesian wavelet estimators in nonparametric regression by Natalia Bochkina

We consider wavelet estimators in the context of nonparametric regression, with the aim of finding estimators that simultaneously achieve the local and global adaptive minimax rate of convergence. It is known that one estimator – James-Stein block thresholding estimator of T.Cai (2008) – achieves simultaneously both optimal rates of convergence but over a limited set of Besov spaces; in particular, over the sets of spatially inhomogeneous functions (with 1≤ p<2) the upper bound on the global rate of this estimator is slower than the optimal minimax rate.

Another possible candidate to achieve both rates of convergence simultaneously is the Empirical Bayes estimator of Johnstone and Silverman (2005) which is an adaptive estimator that achieves the global minimax rate over a wide rage of Besov spaces and Besov balls. The maximum marginal likelihood approach is used to estimate the hyperparameters, and it can be interpreted as a Bayesian estimator with a uniform prior. We show that it also achieves the adaptive local minimax rate over all Besov spaces, and hence it does indeed achieve both local and global rates of convergence simultaneously over Besov spaces. We also give an example of how it works in practice.

beware, nefarious Bayesians threaten to take over frequentism using loss functions as Trojan horses!

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2012 by xi'an

“It is not a coincidence that textbooks written by Bayesian statisticians extol the virtue of the decision-theoretic perspective and then proceed to present the Bayesian approach as its natural extension.” (p.19)

“According to some Bayesians (see Robert, 2007), the risk function does represent a legitimate frequentist error because it is derived by taking expectations with respect to [the sampling density]. This argument is misleading for several reasons.” (p.18)

During my R exam, I read the recent arXiv posting by Aris Spanos on why “the decision theoretic perspective misrepresents the frequentist viewpoint”. The paper is entitled “Why the Decision Theoretic Perspective Misrepresents Frequentist Inference: ‘Nuts and Bolts’ vs. Learning from Data” and I found it at the very least puzzling…. The main theme is the one caricatured in the title of this post, namely that the decision-theoretic analysis of frequentist procedures is a trick brought by Bayesians to justify their own procedures. The fundamental argument behind this perspective is that decision theory operates in a “for all θ” referential while frequentist inference (in Spanos’ universe) is only concerned by one θ, the true value of the parameter. (Incidentally, the “nuts and bolt” refers to the only case when a decision-theoretic approach is relevant from a frequentist viewpoint, namely in factory quality control sampling.)

“The notions of a risk function and admissibility are inappropriate for frequentist inference because they do not represent legitimate error probabilities.” (p.3)

“An important dimension of frequentist inference that has not been adequately appreciated in the statistics literature concerns its objectives and underlying reasoning.” (p.10)

“The factual nature of frequentist reasoning in estimation also brings out the impertinence of the notion of admissibility stemming from its reliance on the quantifier ‘for all’.” (p.13)

One strange feature of the paper is that Aris Spanos seems to appropriate for himself the notion of frequentism, rejecting the choices made by (what I would call frequentist) pioneers like Wald, Neyman, “Lehmann and LeCam [sic]“, Stein. Apart from Fisher—and the paper is strongly grounded in neo-Fisherian revivalism—, the only frequentists seemingly finding grace in the eyes of the author are George Box, David Cox, and George Tiao. (The references are mostly to textbooks, incidentally.) Modern authors that clearly qualify as frequentists like Bickel, Donoho, Johnstone, or, to mention the French school, e.g., Birgé, Massart, Picard, Tsybakov, none of whom can be suspected of Bayesian inclinations!, do not appear either as satisfying those narrow tenets of frequentism. Furthermore, the concept of frequentist inference is never clearly defined within the paper. As in the above quote, the notion of “legitimate error probabilities” pops up repeatedly (15 times) within the whole manifesto without being explicitely defined. (The closest to a definition is found on page 17, where the significance level and the p-value are found to be legitimate.) Aris Spanos even rejects what I would call the von Mises basis of frequentism: “contrary to Bayesian claims, those error probabilities have nothing to to do with the temporal or the physical dimension of the long-run metaphor associated with repeated samples” (p.17), namely that a statistical  procedure cannot be evaluated on its long term performance… Continue reading

loss functions for credible regions

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , , , on March 15, 2012 by xi'an

When Éric Marchand came to give a talk last week, we discussed about minimality and Bayesian estimation for confidence/credible regions. In the early 1990’s, George Casella and I wrote a paper in this direction, entitled “Distance weighted losses for testing and confidence set evaluation” and published in TEST. It was restricted to the univariate case but one could consider evaluating α-level confidence regions with a loss function like

L(\theta,C) = \left(\theta-\text{proj}_C(\theta)\right)^2

where the projection of the parameter over C is the element in C that is closest to the parameter. As in the original paper, this loss function brings a penalty of how far is the parameter from the region, compared the rudimentary 0-1 loss function which penalises all misses the same way. The posterior loss is not straightforward to minimise, though. Unless one considers an approximation based on a sample from the posterior and picks the (1-α)-fraction that gives the smallest sum of distances to the remaining α-fraction. And then takes a convexification of the α-fraction. This is not particularly “clean” and I would prefer to find an HPD-like region, i.e. an HPD linked to a modified prior… But this may require another loss function than the one above. Incidentally, I was also playing with an alternative loss function that would avoid setting the level α. Namely

L(\theta,C) = \left(\theta-\text{proj}_C(\theta)\right)^2 + \tau\, \text{diam}(C)^2,

which simultaneously penalises non-coverage and size. However, the choice of τ makes the function difficult to motivate in a realistic setting.

bounded normal mean

Posted in R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2011 by xi'an

A few days ago, one of my students, Jacopo Primavera (from La Sapienza, Roma) presented his “reading the classic” paper, namely the terrific bounded normal mean paper by my friends George Casella and Bill Strawderman (1981, Annals of Statistics). Even though I knew this paper quite well, having read (and studied) it myself many times, starting in 1987 in Purdue with Mary Ellen Bock, it was a pleasure to spend another hour on it, as I came up with new perspectives and new questions. Above are my scribbled notes on the back of the [Epson] beamer documentation. One such interesting question is whether or not it is possible to devise a computer code that would [approximately] produce the support of the least favourable prior for a given bound m (in a reasonable time). Another open question is to find the limiting bounds for which a 2 point, a 3 point, &tc., support prior is the least favourable prior. This was established in Casella and Strawderman for bounds less than 1.08 and for bounds between 1.4 and 1.6, but I am not aware of other results in that direction… Here are the slides used by Jacopo:

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