Archive for the University life Category

“À l’université, j’étais le matheux qui savait parler aux statisticiens.”

Posted in Books, pictures, University life with tags , , , , , , , on February 19, 2018 by xi'an

This weekend edition of Le Monde had [most of] Cédric Villani as its cover story. Mostly about his new career as a representative of Orsay at the French Parliament. And a member of the presidential majority. But the weekend edition being the weekend edition, it cannot escape its glossy tendencies and rather than focussing on the political agenda and achievements of the député, including a radical restructuring of the maths curriculum in French high schools, or maybe even his position on the harsh stance of the Macron government on migrants and refugees, Le Monde spends most of the article on the extra-ordinary personality of Villani.  Paris-Match-like. Which leads to quote as the one below, where I find myself at a loss on how to interpret this “ability to speak to statisticians”…!

1500 nuances of gan [gan gan style]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2018 by xi'an

I recently realised that there is a currently very popular trend in machine learning called GAN [for generative adversarial networks] that strongly connects with ABC, at least in that it relies mostly on the availability of a generative model, i.e., a probability model that can be generated as in x=G(ϵ;θ), to draw inference about θ [or predictions]. For instance, there was a GANs tutorial at NIPS 2016 by Ian Goodfellow and many talks on the topic at recent NIPS, the 1500 in the title referring to the citations of the GAN paper by Goodfellow et al. (2014). (The name adversarial comes from opposing true model to generative model in the inference. )

If you remember Jeffreys‘s famous pique about classical tests as being based on improbable events that did not happen, GAN, like ABC,  is sort of the opposite in that it generates events until the one that was observed happens. More precisely, by generating pseudo-samples and switching parameters θ until these samples get as confused as possible between the data generating (“true”) distribution and the generative one. (In its original incarnation, GAN is indeed an optimisation scheme in θ.) A basic presentation of GAN is that it constructs a function D(x,ϕ) that represents the probability that x came from the true model p versus the generative model, ϕ being the parameter of a neural network trained to this effect, aimed at minimising in ϕ a two-term objective function

E[log D(x,ϕ)]+E[log(1D(G(ϵ;θ),ϕ))]

where the first expectation is taken under the true model and the second one under the generative model.

“The discriminator tries to best distinguish samples away from the generator. The generator tries to produce samples that are indistinguishable by the discriminator.” Edward

One ABC perception of this technique is that the confusion rate


is a form of distance between the data and the generative model. Which expectation can be approximated by repeated simulations from this generative model. Which suggests an extension from the optimisation approach to a ABCyesian version by selecting the smallest distances across a range of θ‘s simulated from the prior.

This notion relates to solution using classification tools as density ratio estimation, connecting for instance to Gutmann and Hyvärinen (2012). And ultimately with Geyer’s 1992 normalising constant estimator.

Another link between ABC and networks also came out during that trip. Proposed by Bishop (1994), mixture density networks (MDN) are mixture representations of the posterior [with component parameters functions of the data] trained on the prior predictive through a neural network. These MDNs can be trained on the ABC learning table [based on a specific if redundant choice of summary statistics] and used as substitutes to the posterior distribution, which brings an interesting alternative to Simon Wood’s synthetic likelihood. In a paper I missed Papamakarios and Murray suggest replacing regular ABC with this version…

Institut de Mathématique d’Orsay [jatp]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on February 15, 2018 by xi'an

weakly informative reparameterisations

Posted in Books, pictures, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2018 by xi'an

Our paper, weakly informative reparameterisations of location-scale mixtures, with Kaniav Kamary and Kate Lee, got accepted by JCGS! Great news, which comes in perfect timing for Kaniav as she is currently applying for positions. The paper proposes a unidimensional mixture Bayesian modelling based on the first and second moment constraints, since these turn the remainder of the parameter space into a compact. While we had already developed an associated R package, Ultimixt, the current editorial policy of JCGS imposes the R code used to produce all results to be attached to the submission and it took us a few more weeks than it should have to produce a directly executable code, due to internal library incompatibilities. (For this entry, I was looking for a link to our special JCGS issue with my picture of Edinburgh but realised I did not have this picture.)

amazing appendix

Posted in Books, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2018 by xi'an

In the first appendix of the 1995 Statistical Science paper of Besag, Green, Higdon and Mengersen, on MCMC, “Bayesian Computation and Stochastic Systems”, stands a fairly neat result I was not aware of (and which Arnaud Doucet, with his unrivalled knowledge of the literature!, pointed out to me in Oxford, avoiding me the tedium to try to prove it afresco!). I remember well reading a version of the paper in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1993 (I think!) but nothing about this result.

It goes as follows: when running a Metropolis-within-Gibbs sampler for component x¹ of a collection of variates x¹,x²,…, thus aiming at simulating from the full conditional of x¹ given x⁻¹ by making a proposal q(x|x¹,x⁻¹), it is perfectly acceptable to use a proposal that depends on a parameter α (no surprise so far!) and to generate this parameter α anew at each iteration (still unsurprising as α can be taken as an auxiliary variable) and to have the distribution of this parameter α depending on the other variates x²,…, i.e., x⁻¹. This is the surprising part, as adding α as an auxiliary variable was messing up the update of x⁻¹. But the proof as found in the 1995 paper [page 35] does not require to consider α as such as it establishes global balance directly. (Or maybe still detailed balance when writing the whole Gibbs sampler as a cycle of Metropolis steps.) Terrific! And a whiff mysterious..!

Gibbs for kidds

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2018 by xi'an


A chance (?) question on X validated brought me to re-read Gibbs for Kids, 25 years after it was written (by my close friends George and Ed). The originator of the question had difficulties with the implementation, apparently missing the cyclic pattern of the sampler, as in equations (2.3) and (2.4), and with the convergence, which is only processed for a finite support in the American Statistician paper. The paper [which did not appear in American Statistician under this title!, but inspired an animal bredeer, Dan Gianola, to write a “Gibbs for pigs” presentation in 1993 at the 44th Annual Meeting of the European Association for Animal Production, Aarhus, Denmark!!!] most appropriately only contains toy examples since those can be processed and compared to know stationary measures. This is for instance the case for the auto-exponential model

f(x,y) \propto exp(-xy)

which is only defined as a probability density for a compact support. (The paper does not identify the model as a special case of auto-exponential model, which apparently made the originator of the model, Julian Besag in 1974, unhappy, as George and I found out when visiting Bath, where Julian was spending the final year of his life, many years later.) I use the limiting case all the time in class to point out that a Gibbs sampler can be devised and operate without a stationary probability distribution. However, being picky!, I would like to point out that, contrary, to a comment made in the paper, the Gibbs sampler does not “fail” but on the contrary still “converges” in this case, in the sense that a conditional ergodic theorem applies, i.e., the ratio of the frequencies of visits to two sets A and B with finite measure do converge to the ratio of these measures. For instance, running the Gibbs sampler 10⁶ steps and ckecking for the relative frequencies of x’s in (1,2) and (1,3) gives 0.685, versus log(2)/log(3)=0.63, since 1/x is the stationary measure. One important and influential feature of the paper is to stress that proper conditionals do not imply proper joints. George would work much further on that topic, in particular with his PhD student at the time, my friend Jim Hobert.

With regard to the convergence issue, Gibbs for Kids points out to Schervish and Carlin (1990), which came quite early when considering Gelfand and Smith published their initial paper the very same year, but which also adopts a functional approach to convergence, along the paper’s fixed point perspective, somehow complicating the matter. Later papers by Tierney (1994), Besag (1995), and Mengersen and Tweedie (1996) considerably simplified the answer, which is that irreducibility is a necessary and sufficient condition for convergence. (Incidentally, the reference list includes a technical report of mine’s on latent variable model MCMC implementation that never got published.)

complex Cauchys

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 8, 2018 by xi'an

During a visit of Don Fraser and Nancy Reid to Paris-Dauphine where Nancy gave a nice introduction to confidence distributions, Don pointed out to me a 1992 paper by Peter McCullagh on the Cauchy distribution. Following my recent foray into the estimation of the Cauchy location parameter. Among several most interesting aspects of the Cauchy, Peter re-expressed the density of a Cauchy C(θ¹,θ²) as

f(x;θ¹,θ²) = |θ²| / |x-θ|²

when θ=θ¹+ιθ² [a complex number on the half-plane]. Denoting the Cauchy C(θ¹,θ²) as Cauchy C(θ), the property that the ratio aX+b/cX+d follows a Cauchy for all real numbers a,b,c,d,


[when X is C(θ)] follows rather readily. But then comes the remark that

“those properties follow immediately from the definition of the Cauchy as the ratio of two correlated normals with zero mean.”

which seems to relate to the conjecture solved by Natesh Pillai and Xiao-Li Meng a few years ago. But the fact that  a ratio of two correlated centred Normals is Cauchy is actually known at least from the1930’s, as shown by Feller (1930, Biometrika) and Geary (1930, JRSS B).