Archive for University of Warwick
I had quite a special day today as I travelled through Birmingham, made a twenty minutes stop in Coventry to drop my bag in my office, went down to London to collect a most kindly loaned city-bike and took the train back to Coventry with the said bike… On my way from Bristol to Warwick, I decided to spend the night in downtown Birmingham as it was both easier and cheaper than to find accommodation on Warwick campus. However, while the studio I rented was well-designed and brand-new, my next door neighbours were not so well-designed in that I could hear them and the TV through the wall, despite top-quality ear-plugs! After a request of mine, they took the TV off but kept to the same decibel level for their uninteresting exchanges. In the morning I tried to go running in the centre of Birmingham but, as I could not find the canals, I quickly got bored and gave up. As Mark had proposed to lend me a city bike for my commuting in [and not to] Warwick, I then decided to take the opportunity of a free Sunday to travel down to London to pick the bike, change the pedals in a nearby shop, add an anti-theft device, and head back to Coventry. Which gave me the opportunity to bike in London by Abbey Road, Regent Park, and Hampstead, before [easily] boarding a fast train back to Coventry and biking up to the University of Warwick campus. (Sadly to discover that all convenience stores had closed by then… )
…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.
My friend and Warwick colleague Gareth Roberts just published a paper in Nature with Ellen Brooks-Pollock and Matt Keeling from the University of Warwick on the modelling of bovine tuberculosis dynamics in Britain and on the impact of control measures. The data comes from the Cattle Tracing System and the VetNet national testing database. The mathematical model is based on a stochastic process and its six parameters are estimated by sequential ABC (SMC-ABC). The summary statistics chosen in the model are the number of infected farms per county per year and the number of reactors (cattle failing a test) per county per year.
“Therefore, we predict that control of local badger populations and hence control of environmental transmission will have a relatively limited effect on all measures of bovine TB incidence.”
This advanced modelling of a comprehensive dataset on TB in Britain quickly got into a high profile as it addresses the highly controversial (not to say plain stupid) culling of badgers (who also carry TB) advocated by the government. The study concludes that “only generic measures such as more national testing, whole herd culling or vaccination that affect all routes of transmission are effective at controlling the spread of bovine TB.” While the elimination of badgers from the English countryside would have a limited effect. Good news for badgers! And the Badger Trust. Unsurprisingly, the study was immediately rejected by the UK farming minister! Not only does he object to the herd culling solution for economic reasons, but he “cannot accept the paper’s findings”. Maybe he does not like ABC… More seriously, the media oversimplified the findings of the study, “as usual”, with e.g. The Guardian headline of “tuberculosis threat requires mass cull of cattle”.