MCMC at ICMS (2)

The second day of our workshop on computational statistics at the ICMS started with a terrific talk by Xiao-Li Meng. Although this talk related with his Inception talk in Paris last summer, and of the JCGS discussion paper, he brought new geometric aspects to the phenomenon (managing a zero correlation and hence i.i.d.-ness in the simulation of a Gaussian random effect posterior distribution). While I was reflecting about the difficulty to extend the perspective beyond normal models, he introduced a probit example where exact null correlation cannot be found but an adaptive scheme allows to explore the range of correlation coefficients. This made me somehow think of a possible version in this approach in a tempering perspective, where different data augmentation schemes would be merged into an “optimal” geometric mixture, rather than via interweaving.

As an aside, Xiao-Li mentioned the idea of Bayesian sufficiency and Bayesian ancilarity in the construction of his data augmentation schemes. He then concluded that sufficiency is identical in classical and Bayesian approaches, while ancilarity could be defined in several ways. I have already posted on that, but it seems to me that sufficiency is a weaker notion in the Bayesian perspective in the sense that all that matters is that the posterior is the same given the observation y and given the observed statistics, rather than uniformly over all possible values of the random variable Y as in the classical sense. As for ancilarity, it is also natural to consider that an ancillary statistics does not bring information on the parameter, i.e. that the prior and the posterior distributions are the same given the observed ancillary statistics. Going further to define ancilarity as posterior independence between “true” parameters and auxiliary variables, as Xiao-Li suggested, does not seem very sound as it leads to the paradoxes Basu liked so much!

Today, the overlap with the previous meetings in Bristol and in Banff was again limited: Arnaud Doucet rewrote his talk towards less technicity, which means I got the idea much more clearly than last week. The idea of having a sequence of pseudo-parameters with the same pseudo-prior seems to open a wide range of possible adaptive schemes. Faming Liang also gave a talk fairly similar to the one he presented in Banff. And David van Dyk as well, which led me to think anew about collapsed Gibbs samplers in connection with ABC and a project I just started here in Edinburgh.

Otherwise, the intense schedule of the day saw us through eleven talks. Daniele Impartato called for distributions (in the physics or Laurent Schwarz’ meaning of the term!) to decrease the variance of Monte Carlo estimations, an approach I hope to look further as Schwarz’ book is the first math book I ever bought!, an investment I tried to capitalize once in writing a paper mixing James-Stein estimation and distributions for generalised integration by part, paper that was repeatedly rejected until I gave up! Jim Griffin showed us improvements brought in the exploration of large number of potential covariates in linear and generalised linear models. Natesh Pillai tried to drag us through several of his papers on covariance matrix estimation, although I fear he lost me along the way! Let me perversely blame the schedule (rather than an early rise to run around Arthur’s Seat!) for falling asleep during Alex Beskos’ talk on Hamiltonian MCMC for diffusions, even though I was looking forward this talk. (Apologies to Alex!) Then Simon Byrne gave us a quick tour of differential geometry in connection with orthogonalization for Hamiltonian MCMC. Which brought me back very briefly to this early time I was still considering starting a PhD in differential geometry and then even more briefly played with the idea of mixing differential geometry and statistics à la Shun’ichi  Amari…. Ian Murray and  Simo Sarkka completed the day with a cartoonesque talk on latent Gaussians that connected well with Xiao-Li’s and a talk on Gaussian approximations to diffusions with unknown parameters, which kept within the main theme of the conference, namely inference on partly observed diffusions.

As written above, this was too intense a day, with hardly any free time to discuss about the talks or the ongoing projects, which makes me prefer the pace adopted in Bristol or in Banff. Having to meet a local student on leave from Dauphine for a year here did not help of course!)

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