Archive for the Books Category

probably ABC [and provably robust]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2017 by xi'an

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!

[one of] 99 stories of God

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , on August 4, 2017 by xi'an


When he was a boy, someone’s great-grandfather told him this story about a traveller in thirteenth-century France.

The traveller met three men pushing wheelbarrows. He asked in what work they were engaged, and he received from them the following three answers.

The first said: I toil from sunrise to sunset and all I receive for my labor is a few francs a day.

The second said: I’m happy enough to wheel this wheelbarrow, for I have not had work for many months and I have a family to feed.

The third said: I am building Chartres Cathedral.

But as a boy he had no idea what a chartres cathedral was.

Joy Williams, ninety-nine stories of God.

[Nitpicking on that sharp little tale: Francs did not become a currency in France until 1360, when it was first coined to attempt to ransom the then king of France, John II, who still died a prisoner in England.]

ghost [parameters] in the [Bayesian] shell

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on August 3, 2017 by xi'an

This question appeared on Stack Exchange (X Validated) two days ago. And the equalities indeed seem to suffer from several mathematical inconsistencies, as I pointed out in my Answer. However, what I find most crucial in this question is that the quantity on the left hand side is meaningless. Parameters for different models only make sense within their own model. Hence when comparing models parameters cannot co-exist across models. What I suspect [without direct access to Kruschke’s Doing Bayesian Data Analysis book and as was later confirmed by John] is that he is using pseudo-priors in order to apply Carlin and Chib (1995) resolution [by saturation of the parameter space] of simulating over a trans-dimensional space…

European statistics in Finland [EMS17]

Posted in Books, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2017 by xi'an

While this European meeting of statisticians had a wide range of talks and topics, I found it to be more low key than the previous one I attended in Budapest, maybe because there was hardly any talk there in applied probability. (But there were some sessions in mathematical statistics and Mark Girolami gave a great entry to differential geometry and MCMC, in the spirit of his 2010 discussion paper. Using our recent trip to Montréal as an example of geodesic!) In the Bayesian software session [organised by Aki Vetahri], Javier Gonzáles gave a very neat introduction to Bayesian optimisation: he showed how optimisation can be turned into Bayesian inference or more specifically as a Bayesian decision problem using a loss function related to the problem of interest. The point in following a Bayesian path [or probabilist numerics] is to reduce uncertainty by the medium of prior measures on functions, although resorting [as usual] to Gaussian processes whose arbitrariness I somehow dislike within the infinity of priors (aka stochastic processes) on functions! One of his strong arguments was that the approach includes the possibility for design in picking the next observation point (as done in some ABC papers of Michael Guttman and co-authors, incl. the following talk at EMS 2017) but again the devil may be in the implementation when looking at minimising an objective function… The notion of the myopia of optimisation techniques was another good point: only looking one step ahead in the future diminishes the returns of the optimisation and an alternative presented at AISTATS 2016 [that I do not remember seeing in Càdiz] goes against this myopia.

Umberto Piccini also gave a talk on exploiting synthetic likelihoods in a Bayesian fashion (in connection with the talk he gave last year at MCqMC 2016). I wondered at the use of INLA for this Gaussian representation, as well as at the impact of the parameterisation of the summary statistics. And the session organised by Jean-Michel involved Jimmy Olson, Murray Pollock (Warwick) and myself, with great talks from both other speakers, on PaRIS and PaRISian algorithms by Jimmy, and on a wide range of exact simulation methods of continuous time processes by Murray, both managing to convey the intuition behind their results and avoiding the massive mathematics at work there. By comparison, I must have been quite unclear during my talk since someone interrupted me about how Owen & Zhou (2000) justified their deterministic mixture importance sampling representation. And then left when I could not make sense of his questions [or because it was lunchtime already].

Le Monde puzzle [#1707]

Posted in Books, Kids, R with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2017 by xi'an

A geometric Le Monde mathematical puzzle:

  1. Given a pizza of diameter 20cm, what is the way to cut it by two perpendicular lines through a point distant 5cm from the centre towards maximising the surface of two opposite slices?
  2.  Using the same point as the tip of the four slices, what is the way to make four slices with equal arcs in four cuts from the tip again towards maximising the surface of two opposite slices?

For both questions, I did not bother with the maths but went itself to a discretisation of the disk, counting the proportion of points within two opposite slices and letting the inclination of these slices move from zero to π/2. Unsurprisingly, for the first question, the answer is π/4, given that there is no difference between both surfaces at angles 0 and π/2. My R code is as follows, using (5,0) as the tip:

for (i in 1:M){

The second puzzle can be solved by a similar code, except that the slice area between two lines has to be determined by a cross product:

  for (i in 1:M){

a code that shows that all cuts lead to identical surfaces for bot sets of slices. A fairly surprising result!


Bouncing bouncy particle papers

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , on July 27, 2017 by xi'an

Yesterday, two papers on bouncy particle samplers simultaneously appeared on arXiv, arxiv:1707.05200 by Chris Sherlock and Alex Thiery, and arxiv:1707.05296 by Paul Vanetti, Alexandre Bouchard-Côté, George Deligiannidis, and Arnaud Doucet. As a coordinated move by both groups of authors who had met the weeks before at the Isaac Newton Institute in Cambridge.

The paper by Sherlock and Thiery, entitled a discrete bouncy particle sampler, considers a delayed rejection approach that only requires point-wise evaluations of the target density. The delay being into making a speed flip move after a proposal involving a flip in the speed and a drift in the variable of interest is rejected. To achieve guaranteed ergodicity, they add a random perturbation as in our recent paper, plus another perturbation based on a Brownian argument. Given that this is a discretised version of the continuous-time bouncy particle sampler, the discretisation step δ need be calibrated. The authors follow a rather circumvoluted argument to argue in favour of seeking a maximum number of reflections (for which I have obviously no intuition). Overall, I find it hard to assess how much of an advance this is, even when simulations support the notion of a geometric convergence.

“Our results provide a cautionary example that in certain high-dimensional scenarios, it is still preferable to perform refreshment even when randomized bounces are used.” Vanetti et al.

The paper by Paul Vanetti and co-authors has a much more ambitious scale in that it unifies most of the work done so far in this area and relates piecewise deterministic processes, Hamiltonian Monte Carlo, and discrete versions, containing on top fine convergence results. The main idea is to improve upon the existing deterministic methods by taking (more) into account the target density. Hence the use of a bouncy particle sampler associated with the Hamiltonian (as in HMC). This borrows from an earlier slice sampler idea of Iain Murray, Ryan Adams, and David McKay (AISTATS 2010), exploiting an exact Hamiltonian dynamics for an approximation to the true target to explore its support. Except that bouncing somewhat avoids the slice step. The [eight] discrete bouncy particle particle samplers derived from this framework are both correct against the targeted distribution and do not require the simulation of event times. The paper distinguishes between global and local versions, the later exploiting conditional independence properties in the (augmented) target. Which sounds like a version of multiple slice sampling.

Jeffreys priors for mixtures [or not]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , on July 25, 2017 by xi'an

Clara Grazian and I have just arXived [and submitted] a paper on the properties of Jeffreys priors for mixtures of distributions. (An earlier version had not been deemed of sufficient interest by Bayesian Analysis.) In this paper, we consider the formal Jeffreys prior for a mixture of Gaussian distributions and examine whether or not it leads to a proper posterior with a sufficient number of observations.  In general, it does not and hence cannot be used as a reference prior. While this is a negative result (and this is why Bayesian Analysis did not deem it of sufficient importance), I find it definitely relevant because it shows that the default reference prior [in the sense that the Jeffreys prior is the primary choice in nonparametric settings] does not operate in this wide class of distributions. What is surprising is that the use of a Jeffreys-like prior on a global location-scale parameter (as in our 1996 paper with Kerrie Mengersen or our recent work with Kaniav Kamary and Kate Lee) remains legit if proper priors are used on all the other parameters. (This may be yet another illustration of the tequilla-like toxicity of mixtures!)

Francisco Rubio and Mark Steel already exhibited this difficulty of the Jeffreys prior for mixtures of densities with disjoint supports [which reveals the mixture latent variable and hence turns the problem into something different]. Which relates to another point of interest in the paper, derived from a 1988 [Valencià Conference!] paper by José Bernardo and Javier Giròn, where they show the posterior associated with a Jeffreys prior on a mixture is proper when (a) only estimating the weights p and (b) using densities with disjoint supports. José and Javier use in this paper an astounding argument that I had not seen before and which took me a while to ingest and accept. Namely, the Jeffreys prior on a observed model with latent variables is bounded from above by the Jeffreys prior on the corresponding completed model. Hence if the later leads to a proper posterior for the observed data, so does the former. Very smooth, indeed!!!

Actually, we still support the use of the Jeffreys prior but only for the mixture mixtures, because it has the property supported by Judith and Kerrie of a conservative prior about the number of components. Obviously, we cannot advocate its use over all the parameters of the mixture since it then leads to an improper posterior.