Archive for all models are wrong

Nature reflections on policing

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2020 by xi'an

over-confident about mis-specified models?

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2019 by xi'an

Ziheng Yang and Tianqui Zhu published a paper in PNAS last year that criticises Bayesian posterior probabilities used in the comparison of models under misspecification as “overconfident”. The paper is written from a phylogeneticist point of view, rather than from a statistician’s perspective, as shown by the Editor in charge of the paper [although I thought that, after Steve Fienberg‘s intervention!, a statistician had to be involved in a submission relying on statistics!] a paper , but the analysis is rather problematic, at least seen through my own lenses… With no statistical novelty, apart from looking at the distribution of posterior probabilities in toy examples. The starting argument is that Bayesian model comparison is often reporting posterior probabilities in favour of a particular model that are close or even equal to 1.

“The Bayesian method is widely used to estimate species phylogenies using molecular sequence data. While it has long been noted to produce spuriously high posterior probabilities for trees or clades, the precise reasons for this over confidence are unknown. Here we characterize the behavior of Bayesian model selection when the compared models are misspecified and demonstrate that when the models are nearly equally wrong, the method exhibits unpleasant polarized behaviors,supporting one model with high confidence while rejecting others. This provides an explanation for the empirical observation of spuriously high posterior probabilities in molecular phylogenetics.”

The paper focus on the behaviour of posterior probabilities to strongly support a model against others when the sample size is large enough, “even when” all models are wrong, the argument being apparently that the correct output should be one of equal probability between models, or maybe a uniform distribution of these model probabilities over the probability simplex. Why should it be so?! The construction of the posterior probabilities is based on a meta-model that assumes the generating model to be part of a list of mutually exclusive models. It does not account for cases where “all models are wrong” or cases where “all models are right”. The reported probability is furthermore epistemic, in that it is relative to the measure defined by the prior modelling, not to a promise of a frequentist stabilisation in a ill-defined asymptotia. By which I mean that a 99.3% probability of model M¹ being “true”does not have a universal and objective meaning. (Moderation note: the high polarisation of posterior probabilities was instrumental in our investigation of model choice with ABC tools and in proposing instead error rates in ABC random forests.)

The notion that two models are equally wrong because they are both exactly at the same Kullback-Leibler distance from the generating process (when optimised over the parameter) is such a formal [or cartoonesque] notion that it does not make much sense. There is always one model that is slightly closer and eventually takes over. It is also bizarre that the argument does not account for the complexity of each model and the resulting (Occam’s razor) penalty. Even two models with a single parameter are not necessarily of intrinsic dimension one, as shown by DIC. And thus it is not a surprise if the posterior probability mostly favours one versus the other. In any case, an healthily sceptic approach to Bayesian model choice means looking at the behaviour of the procedure (Bayes factor, posterior probability, posterior predictive, mixture weight, &tc.) under various assumptions (model M¹, M², &tc.) to calibrate the numerical value, rather than taking it at face value. By which I do not mean a frequentist evaluation of this procedure. Actually, it is rather surprising that the authors of the PNAS paper do not jump on the case when the posterior probability of model M¹ say is uniformly distributed, since this would be a perfect setting when the posterior probability is a p-value. (This is also what happens to the bootstrapped version, see the last paragraph of the paper on p.1859, the year Darwin published his Origin of Species.)

model misspecification in ABC

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2017 by xi'an

With David Frazier and Judith Rousseau, we just arXived a paper studying the impact of a misspecified model on the outcome of an ABC run. This is a question that naturally arises when using ABC, but that has been not directly covered in the literature apart from a recently arXived paper by James Ridgway [that was earlier this month commented on the ‘Og]. On the one hand, ABC can be seen as a robust method in that it focus on the aspects of the assumed model that are translated by the [insufficient] summary statistics and their expectation. And nothing else. It is thus tolerant of departures from the hypothetical model that [almost] preserve those moments. On the other hand, ABC involves a degree of non-parametric estimation of the intractable likelihood, which may sound even more robust, except that the likelihood is estimated from pseudo-data simulated from the “wrong” model in case of misspecification.

In the paper, we examine how the pseudo-true value of the parameter [that is, the value of the parameter of the misspecified model that comes closest to the generating model in terms of Kullback-Leibler divergence] is asymptotically reached by some ABC algorithms like the ABC accept/reject approach and not by others like the popular linear regression [post-simulation] adjustment. Which suprisingly concentrates posterior mass on a completely different pseudo-true value. Exploiting our recent assessment of ABC convergence for well-specified models, we show the above convergence result for a tolerance sequence that decreases to the minimum possible distance [between the true expectation and the misspecified expectation] at a slow enough rate. Or that the sequence of acceptance probabilities goes to zero at the proper speed. In the case of the regression correction, the pseudo-true value is shifted by a quantity that does not converge to zero, because of the misspecification in the expectation of the summary statistics. This is not immensely surprising but we hence get a very different picture when compared with the well-specified case, when regression corrections bring improvement to the asymptotic behaviour of the ABC estimators. This discrepancy between two versions of ABC can be exploited to seek misspecification diagnoses, e.g. through the acceptance rate versus the tolerance level, or via a comparison of the ABC approximations to the posterior expectations of quantities of interest which should diverge at rate Vn. In both cases, ABC reference tables/learning bases can be exploited to draw and calibrate a comparison with the well-specified case.

La déraisonnable efficacité des mathématiques

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2017 by xi'an

Although it went completely out of my mind, thanks to a rather heavy travel schedule, I gave last week a short interview about the notion of mathematical models, which got broadcast this week on France Culture, one of the French public radio channels. Within the daily La Méthode Scientifique show, which is a one-hour emission on scientific issues, always a [rare] pleasure to listen to. (Including the day they invited Claire Voisin.) The theme of the show that day was about the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics, with the [classical] questioning of whether it is an efficient tool towards solving scientific (and inference?) problems because the mathematical objects pre-existed their use or we are (pre-)conditioned to use mathematics to solve problems. I somewhat sounded like a dog in a game of skittles, but it was interesting to listen to the philosopher discussing my relativistic perspective [provided you understand French!]. And I appreciated very much the way Céline Loozen the journalist who interviewed me sorted the chaff from the wheat in the original interview to make me sound mostly coherent! (A coincidence: Jean-Michel Marin got interviewed this morning on France Inter, the major public radio, about the Grothendieck papers.)

Why should I be Bayesian when my model is wrong?

Posted in Books, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2017 by xi'an

Guillaume Dehaene posted the above question on X validated last Friday. Here is an except from it:

However, as everybody knows, assuming that my model is correct is fairly arrogant: why should Nature fall neatly inside the box of the models which I have considered? It is much more realistic to assume that the real model of the data p(x) differs from p(x|θ) for all values of θ. This is usually called a “misspecified” model.

My problem is that, in this more realistic misspecified case, I don’t have any good arguments for being Bayesian (i.e: computing the posterior distribution) versus simply computing the Maximum Likelihood Estimator.

Indeed, according to Kleijn, v.d Vaart (2012), in the misspecified case, the posterior distribution converges as nto a Dirac distribution centred at the MLE but does not have the correct variance (unless two values just happen to be same) in order to ensure that credible intervals of the posterior match confidence intervals for θ.

Which is a very interesting question…that may not have an answer (but that does not make it less interesting!)

A few thoughts about that meme that all models are wrong: (resonating from last week discussion):

  1. While the hypothetical model is indeed almost invariably and irremediably wrong, it still makes sense to act in an efficient or coherent manner with respect to this model if this is the best one can do. The resulting inference produces an evaluation of the formal model that is the “closest” to the actual data generating model (if any);
  2. There exist Bayesian approaches that can do without the model, a most recent example being the papers by Bissiri et al. (with my comments) and by Watson and Holmes (which I discussed with Judith Rousseau);
  3. In a connected way, there exists a whole branch of Bayesian statistics dealing with M-open inference;
  4. And yet another direction I like a lot is the SafeBayes approach of Peter Grünwald, who takes into account model misspecification to replace the likelihood with a down-graded version expressed as a power of the original likelihood.
  5. The very recent Read Paper by Gelman and Hennig addresses this issue, albeit in a circumvoluted manner (and I added some comments on my blog).
  6. In a sense, Bayesians should be the least concerned among statisticians and modellers about this aspect since the sampling model is to be taken as one of several prior assumptions and the outcome is conditional or relative to all those prior assumptions.