optimal direction Gibbs

An interesting paper appeared on arXiv today. Entitled On optimal direction gibbs sampling, by Andrés Christen, Colin Fox, Diego Andrés Pérez-Ruiz and Mario Santana-Cibrian, it defines optimality as picking the direction that brings the maximum independence between two successive realisations in the Gibbs sampler. More precisely, it aims at choosing the direction e that minimises the mutual information criterion

\int\int f_{Y,X}(y,x)\log\dfrac{f_{Y,X}(y,x)}{f_Y(y)f_X(x)}\,\text{d}x\,\text{d}y

I have a bit of an issue about this choice because it clashes with measure theory. Indeed, in one Gibbs step associated with e the transition kernel is defined in terms of the Lebesgue measure over the line induced by e. Hence the joint density of the pair of successive realisations is defined in terms of the product of the Lebesgue measure on the overall space and of the Lebesgue measure over the line induced by e… While the product in the denominator is defined against the product of the Lebesgue measure on the overall space and itself. The two densities are therefore not comparable since not defined against equivalent measures… The difference between numerator and denominator is actually clearly expressed in the normal example (page 3) when the chain operates over a n dimensional space, but where the conditional distribution of the next realisation is one-dimensional, thus does not relate with the multivariate normal target on the denominator. I therefore do not agree with the derivation of the mutual information henceforth produced as (3).

The above difficulty is indirectly perceived by the authors, who note “we cannot simply choose the best direction: the resulting Gibbs sampler would not be irreducible” (page 5), an objection I had from an earlier page… They instead pick directions at random over the unit sphere and (for the normal case) suggest using a density over those directions such that

h^*(\mathbf{e})\propto(\mathbf{e}^\prime A\mathbf{e})^{1/2}

which cannot truly be called “optimal”.

More globally, searching for “optimal” directions (or more generally transforms) is quite a worthwhile idea, esp. when linked with adaptive strategies…

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