**T**he première of the ABC World Seminar last Thursday was most successful! It took place at the scheduled time, with no technical interruption and allowed 130⁺ participants from most of the World [sorry, West Coast friends!] to listen to the first speaker, Dennis Prangle, presenting normalising flows and distilled importance sampling. And to answer questions. As I had already commented on the earlier version of his paper, I will not reproduce them here. In short, I remain uncertain, albeit not skeptical, about the notions of normalising flows and variational encoders for estimating densities, when perceived as a non-parametric estimator due to the large number of parameters it involves and wonder at the availability of convergence rates. Incidentally, I had forgotten at the remarkable link between KL distance & importance sampling variability. Adding to the to-read list Müller et al. (2018) on neural importance sampling.

## Archive for adaptive importance sampling

## ABC webinar, first!

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags ABC, adaptive importance sampling, Approximate Bayesian computation, Bayesian neural networks, Bayesian nonparametrics, confinement, coronavirus epidemics, COVID-19, Kullback-Leibler divergence, normalising flow, webinar on April 13, 2020 by xi'an## a new rule for adaptive importance sampling

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags adaptive importance sampling, AMIS, empirical likelihood, Helsinki, MCMC, Monte Carlo integration, Monte Carlo Statistical Methods, multiple importance methods, pseudo-random generators, University of Warwick on March 5, 2019 by xi'an**A**rt Owen and Yi Zhou have arXived a short paper on the combination of importance sampling estimators. Which connects somehow with the talk about multiple estimators I gave at ESM last year in Helsinki. And our earlier AMIS combination. The paper however makes two important assumptions to reach optimal weighting, which is inversely proportional to the variance:

- the estimators are uncorrelated if dependent;
- the variance of the k-th estimator is of order a (negative) power of k.

The later is puzzling when considering a series of estimators, in that k appears to act as a sample size (as in AMIS), the power is usually unknown but also there is no reason for the power to be the same for all estimators. The authors propose to use ½ as the default, both because this is the standard Monte Carlo rate and because the loss in variance is then minimal, being 12% larger.

As an aside, Art Owen also wrote an invited discussion “the unreasonable effectiveness of Monte Carlo” of ” Probabilistic Integration: A Role in Statistical Computation?” by François-Xavier Briol, Chris Oates, Mark Girolami (Warwick), Michael Osborne and Deni Sejdinovic, to appear in Statistical Science, discussion that contains a wealth of smart and enlightening remarks. Like the analogy between pseudo-random number generators [which work unreasonably well!] vs true random numbers and Bayesian numerical integration versus non-random functions. Or the role of advanced bootstrapping when assessing the variability of Monte Carlo estimates (citing a paper of his from 1992). Also pointing out at an intriguing MCMC paper by Michael Lavine and Jim Hodges to appear in The American Statistician.

## optimal proposal for ABC

Posted in Statistics with tags ABC, ABC-PMC, ABC-SMC, adaptive importance sampling, Bayesian Analysis, computational astrophysics, effective sample size, Ewan Cameron, kernel density estimator, Kullback-Leibler divergence, mixtures of distributions on October 8, 2018 by xi'an**A**s pointed out by Ewan Cameron in a recent c’Og’ment, Justin Alsing, Benjamin Wandelt, and Stephen Feeney have arXived last August a paper where they discuss an optimal proposal density for ABC-SMC and ABC-PMC. Optimality being understood as maximising the effective sample size.

“Previous studies have sought kernels that are optimal in the (…) Kullback-Leibler divergence between the proposal KDE and the target density.”

The effective sample size for ABC-SMC is actually the regular ESS multiplied by the fraction of accepted simulations. Which surprisingly converges to the ratio

**E**[q(θ)/π(θ)|**D**]/**E**[π(θ)/q(θ)|**D**]

under the (true) posterior. (Where q(θ) is the importance density and π(θ) the prior density.] When optimised in q, this usually produces an implicit equation which results in a form of geometric mean between posterior and prior. The paper looks at approximate ways to find this optimum. Especially at an upper bound on q. Something I do not understand from the simulations is that the starting point seems to be the plain geometric mean between posterior and prior, in a setting where the posterior is supposedly unavailable… Actually the paper is silent on how the optimal can be approximated in practice, for the very reason I just mentioned. Apart from using a non-parametric or mixture estimate of the posterior after each SMC iteration, which may prove extremely costly when processed through the optimisation steps. However, an interesting if side outcome of these simulations is that the above geometric mean does much better than the posterior itself when considering the effective sample size.

## IMS workshop [day 5]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags adaptive importance sampling, adaptive mixture importance sampling, delayed acceptance, National University Singapore, Pareto smoothed importance sampling, particle filters, pseudo-marginal MCMC, Singapore, sunrise on September 3, 2018 by xi'an**T**he last day of the starting workshop [and my last day in Singapore] was a day of importance [sampling] with talks by Matti Vihola opposing importance sampling and delayed acceptance and particle MCMC, related to several papers of his that I missed. To be continued in the coming weeks at the IMS, which is another reason to regret having to leave that early [as my Parisian semester starts this Monday with an undergrad class at 8:30!]

And then a talk by Joaquín Miguez on stabilizing importance sampling by truncation which reminded me very much of the later work by Andrew Gelman and Aki Vehtari on Pareto smoothed importance sampling, with further operators adapted to sequential settings and the similar drawback that when the importance sampler is poor, i.e., when the simulated points are all very far from the centre of mass, no amount of fudging with the weights will bring the points closer. AMIS made an appearance as a reference method, to be improved by this truncation of the weights, a wee bit surprising as it should bring the large weights of the earlier stages down.

Followed by an almost silent talk by Nick Whiteley, who having lost his voice to the air conditioning whispered his talk in the microphone. Having once faced a lost voice during an introductory lecture to a large undergraduate audience, I could not but completely commiserate for the hardship of the task. Although this made the audience most silent and attentive. His topic was the Viterbi process and its parallelisation, by using a truncated horizon (presenting connection with overdamped Langevin, eg Durmus and Moulines and Dalalyan).

And due to a pressing appointment with my son and his girlfriend [who were traveling through Singapore on that day] for a chili crab dinner on my way to the airport, I missed the final talk by Arnaud Doucet, where he was to reconsider PDMP algorithms without the continuous time layer, a perspective I find most appealing!

Overall, this was a quite diverse and rich [starting] seminar, backed by the superb organisation of the IMS and the smooth living conditions on the NUS campus [once I had mastered the bus routes], which would have made much more sense for me as part of a longer stay, which is actually what happened the previous time I visited the IMS (in 2005), again clashing with my course schedule at home… And as always, I am impressed with the city-state of Singapore, for the highly diverse food scene in particular, but also this [maybe illusory] impression of coexistence between communities. And even though the ecological footprint could certainly be decreased, measures to curb car ownership (with a 150% purchase tax) and use (with congestion charges).

## X divergence for approximate inference

Posted in Statistics with tags adaptive importance sampling, divergence, expectation-propagation, Kullback-Leibler divergence, Pima Indians, population Monte Carlo, variational Bayes methods, Wasserstein distance on March 14, 2017 by xi'an**D**ieng et al. arXived this morning a new version of their paper on using the Χ divergence for variational inference. The Χ divergence essentially is the expectation of the squared ratio of the target distribution over the approximation, under the approximation. It is somewhat related to Expectation Propagation (EP), which aims at the Kullback-Leibler divergence between the target distribution and the approximation, under the target. And to variational Bayes, which is the same thing just the opposite way! The authors also point a link to our [adaptive] population Monte Carlo paper of 2008. (I wonder at a possible version through Wasserstein distance.)

Some of the arguments in favour of this new version of variational Bayes approximations is that (a) the support of the approximation over-estimates the posterior support; (b) it produces over-dispersed versions; (c) it relates to a well-defined and global objective function; (d) it allows for a sandwich inequality on the model evidence; (e) the function of the [approximation] parameter to be minimised is under the approximation, rather than under the target. The latest allows for a gradient-based optimisation. While one of the applications is on a Bayesian probit model applied to the Pima Indian women dataset [and will thus make James and Nicolas cringe!], the experimental assessment shows lower error rates for this and other benchmarks. Which in my opinion does not tell so much about the original Bayesian approach.