probably ABC [and provably robust]

Two weeks ago, James Ridgway (formerly CREST) arXived a paper on misspecification and ABC, a topic on which David Frazier, Judith Rousseau and I have been working for a while now [and soon to be arXived as well].  Paper that I re-read on a flight to Amsterdam [hence the above picture], written as a continuation of our earlier paper with David, Gael, and Judith. One specificity of the paper is to use an exponential distribution on the distance between the observed and simulated sample within the ABC distribution. Which reminds me of the resolution by Bissiri, Holmes, and Walker (2016) of the intractability of the likelihood function. James’ paper contains oracle inequalities between the ABC approximation and the genuine distribution of the summary statistics, like a bound on the distance between the expectations of the summary statistics under both models. Which writes down as a sum of a model bias, of two divergences between empirical and theoretical averages, on smoothness penalties, and on a prior impact term. And a similar bound on the distance between the expected distance to the oracle estimator of θ under the ABC distribution [and a Lipschitz type assumption also found in our paper]. Which first sounded weird [to me] as I would have expected the true posterior, until it dawned on me that the ABC distribution is the one used for the estimation [a passing strike of over-Bayesianism!]. While the oracle bound could have been used directly to discuss the rate of convergence of the exponential rate λ to zero [with the sample size n], James goes into the interesting alternative direction of setting a prior on λ, an idea that dates back to Olivier Catoni and Peter Grünwald. Or rather a pseudo-posterior on λ, a common occurrence in the PAC-Bayesian literature. In one of his results, James obtains a dependence of λ on the dimension m of the summary [as well as the root dependence on the sample size n], which seems to contradict our earlier independence result, until one realises this scale parameter is associated with a distance variable, itself scaled in m.

The paper also contains a non-parametric part, where the parameter θ is the unknown distribution of the data and the summary the data itself. Which is quite surprising as I did not deem it possible to handle non-parametrics with ABC. Especially in a misspecified setting (although I have trouble perceiving what this really means).

“We can use most of the Monte Carlo toolbox available in this context.”

The theoretical parts are a bit heavy on notations and hard to read [as a vacation morning read at least!]. They are followed by a Monte Carlo implementation using SMC-ABC.  And pseudo-marginals [at least formally as I do not see how the specific features of pseudo-marginals are more that an augmented representation here]. And adaptive multiple pseudo-samples that reminded me of the Biometrika paper of Anthony Lee and Krys Latuszynski (Warwick). Therefore using indeed most of the toolbox!

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