machine learning-based approach to likelihood-free inference

polyptych painting within the TransCanada Pipeline Pavilion, Banff Centre, Banff, March 21, 2012At ABC’ory last week, Kyle Cranmer gave an extended talk on estimating the likelihood ratio by classification tools. Connected with a 2015 arXival. The idea is that the likelihood ratio is invariant by a transform s(.) that is monotonic with the likelihood ratio itself. It took me a few minutes (after the talk) to understand what this meant. Because it is a transform that actually depends on the parameter values in the denominator and the numerator of the ratio. For instance the ratio itself is a proper transform in the sense that the likelihood ratio based on the distribution of the likelihood ratio under both parameter values is the same as the original likelihood ratio. Or the (naïve Bayes) probability version of the likelihood ratio. Which reminds me of the invariance in Fearnhead and Prangle (2012) of the Bayes estimate given x and of the Bayes estimate given the Bayes estimate. I also feel there is a connection with Geyer’s logistic regression estimate of normalising constants mentioned several times on the ‘Og. (The paper mentions in the conclusion the connection with this problem.)

Now, back to the paper (which I read the night after the talk to get a global perspective on the approach), the ratio is of course unknown and the implementation therein is to estimate it by a classification method. Estimating thus the probability for a given x to be from one versus the other distribution. Once this estimate is produced, its distributions under both values of the parameter can be estimated by density estimation, hence an estimated likelihood ratio be produced. With better prospects since this is a one-dimensional quantity. An objection to this derivation is that it intrinsically depends on the pair of parameters θ¹ and θ² used therein. Changing to another pair requires a new ratio, new simulations, and new density estimations. When moving to a continuous collection of parameter values, in a classical setting, the likelihood ratio involves two maxima, which can be formally represented in (3.3) as a maximum over a likelihood ratio based on the estimated densities of likelihood ratios, except that each evaluation of this ratio seems to require another simulation. (Which makes the comparison with ABC more complex than presented in the paper [p.18], since ABC major computational hurdle lies in the production of the reference table and to a lesser degree of the local regression, both items that can be recycled for any new dataset.) A smoothing step is then to include the pair of parameters θ¹ and θ² as further inputs of the classifier.  There still remains the computational burden of simulating enough values of s(x) towards estimating its density for every new value of θ¹ and θ². And while the projection from x to s(x) does effectively reduce the dimension of the problem to one, the method still aims at estimating with some degree of precision the density of x, so cannot escape the curse of dimensionality. The sleight of hand resides in the classification step, since it is equivalent to estimating the likelihood ratio. I thus fail to understand how and why a poor classifier can then lead to a good approximations of the likelihood ratio “obtained by calibrating s(x)” (p.16). Where calibrating means estimating the density.

2 Responses to “machine learning-based approach to likelihood-free inference”

  1. I really liked how this paper went beyond previous work on ABC and classifiers (,, by the idea of using the parameter values as inputs to the classifier. I’d be interested to see how this approach performs compared to other machine learning extensions to ABC: your random forest work and the neural network approach of

    I’ve also been wondering if Theorem 1 in this paper can be viewed as a special case of our Theorem 1 in I need to find some time to think this through at some point!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s