bootstrap(ed) likelihood for ABC
This recently arXived paper by Weixuan Zhu , Juan Miguel Marín, and Fabrizio Leisen proposes an alternative to our empirical likelihood ABC paper of 2013, or BCel. Besides the mostly personal appeal for me to report on a Juan Miguel Marín working [in Madrid] on ABC topics, along my friend Jean-Michel Marin!, this paper is another entry on ABC that connects with yet another statistical perspective, namely bootstrap. The proposal, called BCbl, is based on a reference paper by Davison, Hinkley and Worton (1992) which defines a bootstrap likelihood, a notion that relies on a double-bootstrap step to produce a non-parametric estimate of the distribution of a given estimator of the parameter θ. This estimate includes a smooth curve-fitting algorithm step, for which little description is available from the current paper. The bootstrap non-parametric substitute then plays the role of the actual likelihood, with no correction for the substitution just as in our BCel. Both approaches are convergent, with Monte Carlo simulations exhibiting similar or even identical convergence speeds although [unsurprisingly!] no deep theory is available on the comparative advantage.
An important issue from my perspective is that, while the empirical likelihood approach relies on a choice of identifying constraints that strongly impact the numerical value of the likelihood approximation, the bootstrap version starts directly from a subjectively chosen estimator of θ, which may also impact the numerical value of the likelihood approximation. In some ABC settings, finding a primary estimator of θ may be a real issue or a computational burden. Except when using a preliminary ABC step as in semi-automatic ABC. This would be an interesting crash-test for the BCbl proposal! (This would not necessarily increase the computational cost by a large amount.) In addition, I am not sure the method easily extends to larger collections of summary statistics as those used in ABC, in particular because it necessarily relies on non-parametric estimates, only operating in small enough dimensions where smooth curve-fitting algorithms can be used. Critically, the paper only processes examples with a few parameters.
The comparisons between BCel and BCbl that are produced in the paper show some gain towards BCbl. Obviously, it depends on the respective calibrations of the non-parametric methods and of regular ABC, as well as on the available computing time. I find the population genetic example somewhat puzzling: The paper refers to our composite likelihood to set the moment equations. Since this is a pseudo-likelihood, I wonder how the authors do select their parameter estimates in the double-bootstrap experiment. And for the Ising model, it is not straightforward to conceive of a bootstrap algorithm on an Ising model: (a) how does one subsample pixels and (b) what are the validity guarantees for the estimation procedure.