Archive for Africa

NeurIPS without visa

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2019 by xi'an

I came by chance upon this 2018 entry in Synced that NeurIPS now takes place in Canada between Montréal and Vancouver primarily because visas to Canada are easier to get than visas to the USA, even though some researchers still get difficulties in securing theirs. Especially researchers from some African countries, which is exposed  in the article as one of the reasons the next ICLR takes place in Addis Ababa. Which I wish I could attend! In the meanwhile, I will be taking part in an ABC workshop in Vancouver, December 08, prior to NeurIPS 2019, before visiting the Department of Statistics at UBC the day after. (My previous visit there was in 1990, I believe!) Incidentally but interestingly, the lottery entries for NeurIPS 2019 are open till September 25, to the public (those not contributing to the conference or any of its affiliated groups). This is certainly better than having bots buying all entries within 12 minutes of the opening time!

More globally, this entry makes me wonder how learned societies could invest in ensuring locations for their (international) meetings allow for a maximum inclusion in terms of these visa difficulties, but also ensuring freedom and safety for all members. Which may prove a de facto impossibility. For instance, Ethiopia has a rather poor record in terms of human rights and, in particular, homosexuality is criminalised there. An alternative would be to hold the conferences in parallel locations chosen to multiply the chances for this inclusion, but this could prove counter-productive [for inclusion] by creating groups that would never ever meet. An insolvable conundrum?

locusts in a random forest

Posted in pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2019 by xi'an

My friends from Montpellier, where I am visiting today, Arnaud Estoup, Jean-Michel Marin, and Louis Raynal, along with their co-authors, have recently posted on biorXiv a paper using ABC-RF (Random Forests) to analyse the divergence of two populations of desert locusts in Africa. (I actually first heard of their paper by an unsolicited email from one of these self-declared research aggregates.)

“…the present study is the first one using recently developed ABC-RF algorithms to carry out inferences about both scenario choice and parameter estimation, on a real multi-locus microsatellite dataset. It includes and illustrates three novelties in statistical analyses (…): model grouping analyses based on several key evolutionary events, assessment of the quality of predictions to evaluate the robustness of our inferences, and incorporation of previous information on the mutational setting of the used microsatellite markers”.

The construction of the competing models (or scenarios) is built upon data of past precipitations and desert evolution spanning several interglacial periods, back to the middle Pleistocene, concluding at a probable separation in the middle-late stages of the Holocene, which corresponds to the last transition from humid to arid conditions in the African continent. The probability of choosing the wrong model is exploited to determine which model(s) lead(s) to a posterior [ABC] probability lower than the corresponding prior probability, and only one scenario stands this test. As in previous ABC-RF implementations, the summary statistics are complemented by pure noise statistics in order to determine a barrier in the collection of statistics, even though those just above the noise elements (which often cluster together) may achieve better Gini importance by mere chance. An aspect of the paper that I particularly like is the discussion of the various prior modellings one can derive from existing information (or lack thereof) and the evaluation of the impact of these modellings on the resulting inference based on simulated pseudo-data.


Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2019 by xi'an

I found my (short) trip to Abdijan for the CISEA 2019 conference quite fantastic as it allowed me to meet with old friends, from the earliest days at CREST and even before, and to meet new ones. Including local students of ENSEA who had taken a Bayesian course out of my Bayesian Choice book. And who had questions about the nature of priors and the difficulty they had in accepting that several replies were possible with the same data! I wish I had had more time to discuss the relativity of Bayesian statements with them but this was a great and rare opportunity to find avid readers of my books! I also had a long chat with another student worried about the use or mis-use of reversible jump algorithms to draw inference  on time-series models in Bayesian Essentials, chat that actually demonstrated his perfect understanding of the matter. And it was fabulous to meet so many statisticians and econometricians from West Africa, most of them French-speaking. My only regret is not having any free time to visit Abidjan or the neighbourhood as the schedule of the conference did not allow for it [or even for a timely posting of a post!], especially as it regularly ran overtime. (But it did provide for a wide range of new local dishes that I definitely enjoyed tasting!) We are now discussing further opportunities to visit there, e.g. by teaching a short course at the Master or PhD levels.

green sunset [jatp]

Posted in pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2019 by xi'an


Posted in pictures with tags , , , , , , on March 22, 2018 by xi'an