label switching by optimal transport: Wasserstein to the rescue

A new arXival by Pierre Monteiller et al. on resolving label switching by optimal transport. To appear in NeurIPS 2019, next month (where I will be, but extra muros, as I have not registered for the conference). Among other things, the paper was inspired from an answer of mine on X validated, presumably a première (and a dernière?!). Rather than picketing [in the likely unpleasant weather ]on the pavement outside the conference centre, here are my raw reactions to the proposal made in the paper. (Usual disclaimer: I was not involved in the review of this paper.)

“Previous methods such as the invariant losses of Celeux et al. (2000) and pivot alignments of Marin et al. (2005) do not identify modes in a principled manner.”

Unprincipled, me?! We did not aim at identifying all modes but only one of them, since the posterior distribution is invariant under reparameterisation. Without any bad feeling (!), I still maintain my position that using a permutation invariant loss function is a most principled and Bayesian approach towards a proper resolution of the issue. Even though figuring out the resulting Bayes estimate may prove tricky.

The paper thus adopts a different approach, towards giving a manageable meaning to the average of the mixture distributions over all permutations, not in a linear Euclidean sense but thanks to a Wasserstein barycentre. Which indeed allows for an averaged mixture density, although a point-by-point estimate that does not require switching to occur at all was already proposed in earlier papers of ours. Including the Bayesian Core. As shown above. What was first unclear to me is how necessary the Wasserstein formalism proves to be in this context. In fact, the major difference with the above picture is that the estimated barycentre is a mixture with the same number of components. Computing time? Bayesian estimate?

Green’s approach to the problem via a point process representation [briefly mentioned on page 6] of the mixture itself, as for instance presented in our mixture analysis handbook, should have been considered. As well as issues about Bayes factors examined in Gelman et al. (2003) and our more recent work with Kate Jeong Eun Lee. Where the practical impossibility of considering all possible permutations is processed by importance sampling.

An idle thought that came to me while reading this paper (in Seoul) was that a more challenging problem would be to face a model invariant under the action of a group with only a subset of known elements of that group. Or simply too many elements in the group. In which case averaging over the orbit would become an issue.

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