Today, at JSM 2015, in Seattle, I attended several Bayesian sessions, having sadly missed the Dennis Lindley memorial session yesterday, as it clashed with my own session. In the morning sessions on Bayesian model choice, David Rossell (Warwick) defended non-local priors à la Johnson (& Rossell) as having better frequentist properties. Although I appreciate the concept of eliminating a neighbourhood of the null in the alternative prior, even from a Bayesian viewpoint since it forces us to declare explicitly when the null is no longer acceptable, I find the asymptotic motivation for the prior less commendable and open to arbitrary choices that may lead to huge variations in the numerical value of the Bayes factor. Another talk by Jin Wang merged spike and slab with EM with bootstrap with random forests in variable selection. But I could not fathom what the intended properties of the method were… Besides returning another type of MAP.
The second Bayesian session of the morn was mostly centred on sparsity and penalisation, with Carlos Carvalho and Rob McCulloch discussing a two step method that goes through a standard posterior construction on the saturated model, before using a utility function to select the pertinent variables. Separation of utility from prior was a novel concept for me, if not for Jay Kadane who objected to Rob a few years ago that he put in the prior what should be in the utility… New for me because I always considered the product prior x utility as the main brick in building the Bayesian edifice… Following Herman Rubin’s motto! Veronika Rocková linked with this post-LASSO perspective by studying spike & slab priors based on Laplace priors. While Veronicka’s goal was to achieve sparsity and consistency, this modelling made me wonder at the potential equivalent in our mixtures for testing approach. I concluded that having a mixture of two priors could be translated in a mixture over the sample with two different parameters, each with a different prior. A different topic, namely multiple testing, was treated by Jim Berger, who showed convincingly in my opinion that a Bayesian approach provides a significant advantage.
In the afternoon finalists of the ISBA Savage Award presented their PhD work, both in the theory and methods section and in the application section. Besides Veronicka Rocková’s work on a Bayesian approach to factor analysis, with a remarkable resolution via a non-parametric Indian buffet prior and a variable selection interpretation that avoids MCMC difficulties, Vinayak Rao wrote his thesis on MCMC methods for jump processes with a finite number of observations, using a highly convincing completion scheme that created independence between blocks and which reminded me of the Papaspiliopoulos et al. (2005) trick for continuous time processes. I do wonder at the potential impact of this method for processing the coalescent trees in population genetics. Two talks dealt with inference on graphical models, Masanao Yajima and Christine Peterson, inferring the structure of a sparse graph by Bayesian methods. With applications in protein networks. And with again a spike & slab prior in Christine’s work. The last talk by Sayantan Banerjee was connected to most others in this Savage session in that it also dealt with sparsity. When estimating a large covariance matrix. (It is always interesting to try to spot tendencies in awards and conferences. Following the Bayesian non-parametric era, are we now entering the Bayesian sparsity era? We will see if this is the case at ISBA 2016!) And the winner is..?! We will know tomorrow night! In the meanwhile, congrats to my friends Sudipto Banerjee, Igor Prünster, Sylvia Richardson, and Judith Rousseau who got nominated IMS Fellows tonight.