likelihood-free nested sampling

Last week, I came by chance across a paper by Jan Mikelson and Mustafa Khammash on a likelihood-free version of nested sampling (a popular keyword on the ‘Og!). Published in 2020 in PLoS Comput Biol. The setup is a parameterised and hidden state-space model, which allows for an approximation of the (observed) likelihood function L(θ|y) by means of a particle filter. An immediate issue with this proposal is that a novel  filter need be produced for a new value of the parameter θ, which makes it enormously expensive. It then gets more bizarre as the [Monte Carlo] distribution of the particle filter approximation ô(θ|y) is agglomerated with the original prior π(θ) as a joint “prior” [despite depending on the observed y] and a nested sampling is conducted with level sets of the form


Actually, if the Monte Carlo error was null, that is, if the number of particles was infinite,


implies that this is indeed the original nested sampler. Simulation from the restricted region is done by constructing an extra density estimator of the constrained distribution (in θ)…

“We have shown how using a Monte Carlo estimate over the livepoints not only results in an unbiased estimator of the Bayesian evidence Z, but also allows us to derive a formulation for a lower bound on the achievable variance in each iteration (…)”

As shown by the above the authors insist on the unbiasedness of the particle approximation, but since nested sampling is not producing an unbiased estimator of the evidence Z, the point is somewhat moot. (I am also rather surprised by the reported lack of computing time benefit in running ABC-SMC.)

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