Archive for Andrew Gelman

truth or truthiness [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2017 by xi'an

This 2016 book by Howard Wainer has been sitting (!) on my desk for quite a while and it took a long visit to Warwick to find a free spot to quickly read it and write my impressions. The subtitle is, as shown on the picture, “Distinguishing fact from fiction by learning to think like a data scientist”. With all due respect to the book, which illustrates quite pleasantly the dangers of (pseudo-)data mis- or over- (or eve under-)interpretation, and to the author, who has repeatedly emphasised those points in his books and tribunes opinion columns, including those in CHANCE, I do not think the book teaches how to think like a data scientist. In that an arbitrary neophyte reader would not manage to handle a realistic data centric situation without deeper training. But this collection of essays, some of which were tribunes, makes for a nice reading  nonetheless.

I presume that in this post-truth and alternative facts [dark] era, the notion of truthiness is familiar to most readers! It is often based on a misunderstanding or a misappropriation of data leading to dubious and unfounded conclusions. The book runs through dozens of examples (some of them quite short and mostly appealing to common sense) to show how this happens and to some extent how this can be countered. If not avoided as people will always try to bend, willingly or not, the data to their conclusion.

There are several parts and several themes in Truth or Truthiness, with different degrees of depth and novelty. The more involved part is in my opinion the one about causality, with illustrations in educational testing, psychology, and medical trials. (The illustration about fracking and the resulting impact on Oklahoma earthquakes should not be in the book, except that there exist officials publicly denying the facts. The same remark applies to the testing cheat controversy, which would be laughable had not someone ended up the victim!) The section on graphical representation and data communication is less exciting, presumably because it comes after Tufte’s books and message. I also feel the 1854 cholera map of John Snow is somewhat over-exploited, since he only drew the map after the epidemic declined.  The final chapter Don’t Try this at Home is quite anecdotal and at the same time this may the whole point, namely that in mundane questions thinking like a data scientist is feasible and leads to sometimes surprising conclusions!

“In the past a theory could get by on its beauty; in the modern world, a successful theory has to work for a living.” (p.40)

The book reads quite nicely, as a whole and a collection of pieces, from which class and talk illustrations can be borrowed. I like the “learned” tone of it, with plenty of citations and witticisms, some in Latin, Yiddish and even French. (Even though the later is somewhat inaccurate! Si ça avait pu se produire, ça avait dû se produire [p.152] would have sounded more vernacular in my Gallic opinion!) I thus enjoyed unreservedly Truth or Truthiness, for its rich style and critical message, all the more needed in the current times, and far from comparing it with a bag of potato chips as Andrew Gelman did, I would like to stress its classical tone, in the sense of being immersed in a broad and deep culture that seems to be receding fast.

contemporary issues in hypothesis testing

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2016 by xi'an

hipocontemptNext Fall, on 15-16 September, I will take part in a CRiSM workshop on hypothesis testing. In our department in Warwick. The registration is now open [until Sept 2] with a moderate registration free of £40 and a call for posters. Jim Berger and Joris Mulder will both deliver a plenary talk there, while Andrew Gelman will alas give a remote talk from New York. (A terrific poster by the way!)

STAN trailer [PG+53]

Posted in Kids, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , on August 14, 2015 by xi'an

[Heading off to mountainous areas with no Internet or phone connection, I posted a series of entries for the following week, starting with this brilliant trailer of Michael:]

also sprach Nietzsche

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on March 30, 2015 by xi'an

off to New York

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2015 by xi'an

I am off to New York City for two days, giving a seminar at Columbia tomorrow and visiting Andrew Gelman there. My talk will be about testing as mixture estimation, with slides similar to the Nice ones below if slightly upgraded and augmented during the flight to JFK. Looking at the past seminar speakers, I noticed we were three speakers from Paris in the last fortnight, with Ismael Castillo and Paul Doukhan (in the Applied Probability seminar) preceding me. Is there a significant bias there?!

Statistics done wrong [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2015 by xi'an

no starch press (!) sent me the pdf version of this incoming book, Statistics done wrong, by Alex Reinhart, towards writing a book review for CHANCE, and I read it over two flights, one from Montpellier to Paris last week, and from Paris to B’ham this morning. The book is due to appear on March 16. It expands on a still existing website developed by Reinhart. (Discussed a year or so away on Andrew’s blog, most in comments, witness Andrew’s comment below.) Reinhart who is, incidentally or not, is a PhD candidate in statistics at Carnegie Mellon University. After apparently a rather consequent undergraduate foray into physics. Quite an unusual level of maturity and perspective for a PhD student..!

“It’s hard for me to evaluate because I am so close to the material. But on first glance it looks pretty reasonable to me.” A. Gelman

Overall, I found myself enjoying reading the book, even though I found the overall picture of the infinitely many mis-uses of statistics rather grim and a recipe for despairing of ever setting things straight..! Somehow, this is an anti-textbook, in that it warns about many ways of applying the right statistical technique in the wrong setting, without ever describing those statistical techniques. Actually without using a single maths equation. Which should be a reason good enough for me to let all hell break loose on that book! But, no, not really, I felt no compunction about agreeing with Reinhart’s warning and if you have reading Andrew’s blog for a while you should feel the same…

“Then again for a symptom like spontaneous human combustion you might get excited about any improvement.” A. Reinhart (p.13)

Maybe the limitation in the exercise is that statistics appears so much fraught with dangers of over-interpretation and false positive and that everyone (except physicists!) is bound to make such invalidated leaps in conclusion, willingly or not, that it sounds like the statistical side of Gödel’s impossibility theorem! Further, the book moves from recommendation at the individual level, i.e., on how one should conduct an experiment and separate data for hypothesis building from data for hypothesis testing, to a universal criticism of the poor standards of scientific publishing and the unavailability of most datasets and codes. Hence calling for universal reproducibility protocols that reminded of the directions explored in this recent book I reviewed on that topic. (The one the rogue bird did not like.) It may be missing on the bright side of things, for instance the wonderful possibility to use statistical models to produce simulated datasets that allow for an evaluation of the performances of a given procedure in the ideal setting. Which would have helped the increasingly depressed reader in finding ways of checking how wrongs things could get..! But also on the dark side, as it does not say much about the fact that a statistical model is most presumably wrong. (Maybe a physicist’s idiosyncrasy!) There is a chapter entitled Model Abuse, but all it does is criticise stepwise regression and somehow botches the description of Simpson’s paradox.

“You can likely get good advice in exchange for some chocolates or a beer or perhaps coauthorship on your next paper.” A. Reinhart (p.127)

The final pages are however quite redeeming in that they acknowledge that scientists from other fields cannot afford a solid enough training in statistics and hence should hire statisticians as consultants for the data collection, analysis and interpretation of their experiments. A most reasonable recommendation!

accelerating Metropolis-Hastings algorithms by delayed acceptance

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2015 by xi'an

Marco Banterle, Clara Grazian, Anthony Lee, and myself just arXived our paper “Accelerating Metropolis-Hastings algorithms by delayed acceptance“, which is an major revision and upgrade of our “Delayed acceptance with prefetching” paper of last June. Paper that we submitted at the last minute to NIPS, but which did not get accepted. The difference with this earlier version is the inclusion of convergence results, in particular that, while the original Metropolis-Hastings algorithm dominates the delayed version in Peskun ordering, the later can improve upon the original for an appropriate choice of the early stage acceptance step. We thus included a new section on optimising the design of the delayed step, by picking the optimal scaling à la Roberts, Gelman and Gilks (1997) in the first step and by proposing a ranking of the factors in the Metropolis-Hastings acceptance ratio that speeds up the algorithm.  The algorithm thus got adaptive. Compared with the earlier version, we have not pursued the second thread of prefetching as much, simply mentioning that prefetching and delayed acceptance could be merged. We have also included a section on the alternative suggested by Philip Nutzman on the ‘Og of using a growing ratio rather than individual terms, the advantage being the probability of acceptance stabilising when the number of terms grows, with the drawback being that expensive terms are not always computed last. In addition to our logistic and mixture examples, we also study in this version the MALA algorithm, since we can postpone computing the ratio of the proposals till the second step. The gain observed in one experiment is of the order of a ten-fold higher efficiency. By comparison, and in answer to one comment on Andrew’s blog, we did not cover the HMC algorithm, since the preliminary acceptance step would require the construction of a proxy to the acceptance ratio, in order to avoid computing a costly number of derivatives in the discretised Hamiltonian integration.