Archive for Australia

shelled and riddled

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, R, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on August 10, 2022 by xi'an

Consider a shell game with three shells and a ball with The Riddler constraint that the location of the shell with the ball is always exchanged with the location of an empty shell, randomly chosen. If one starts with the ball as rightmost, what is the distribution of the location of the ball after N steps?

Running an exploratory R code like

o=rep(0,3)
for(n in 1:1e6){
  b=c(0,0,1)
  for(t in 1:N){
    i=sample((1:3)[!b],1);b=0*b;b[i]=1}
  o=o+b}

shows that the difference in probability is between the rightmost position and both others, starting at zero, and evolving as p⁺=(1-p⁻)/2, with the successive values 0,1/2,1/4,3/8,5/15,11/32,… Very quickly converging to 1/3.

Bayes Rules! [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, R, Running, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2022 by xi'an

Bayes Rules! is a new introductory textbook on Applied Bayesian Model(l)ing, written by Alicia Johnson (Macalester College), Miles Ott (Johnson & Johnson), and Mine Dogucu (University of California Irvine). Textbook sent to me by CRC Press for review. It is available (free) online as a website and has a github site, as well as a bayesrule R package. (Which reminds me that both our own book R packages, bayess and mcsm, have gone obsolete on CRAN! And that I should find time to figure out the issue for an upgrading…)

As far as I can tell [from abroad and from only teaching students with a math background], Bayes Rules! seems to be catering to early (US) undergraduate students with very little exposure to mathematical statistics or probability, as it introduces basic probability notions like pmf, joint distribution, and Bayes’ theorem (as well as Greek letters!) and shies away from integration or algebra (a covariance matrix occurs on page 437 with a lot . For instance, the Normal-Normal conjugacy derivation is considered a “mouthful” (page 113). The exposition is somewhat stretched along the 500⁺ pages as a result, imho, which is presumably a feature shared with most textbooks at this level, and, accordingly, the exercises and quizzes are more about intuition and reproducing the contents of the chapter than technical. In fact, I did not spot there a mention of sufficiency, consistency, posterior concentration (almost made on page 113), improper priors, ergodicity, irreducibility, &tc., while other notions are not precisely defined, like ESS, weakly informative (page 234) or vague priors (page 77), prior information—which makes the negative answer to the quiz “All priors are informative”  (page 90) rather confusing—, R-hat, density plot, scaled likelihood, and more.

As an alternative to “technical derivations” Bayes Rules! centres on intuition and simulation (yay!) via its bayesrule R package. Itself relying on rstan. Learning from example (as R code is always provided), the book proceeds through conjugate priors, MCMC (Metropolis-Hasting) methods, regression models, and hierarchical regression models. Quite impressive given the limited prerequisites set by the authors. (I appreciated the representations of the prior-likelihood-posterior, especially in the sequential case.)

Regarding the “hot tip” (page 108) that the posterior mean always stands between the prior mean and the data mean, this should be made conditional on a conjugate setting and a mean parameterisation. Defining MCMC as a method that produces a sequence of realisations that are not from the target makes a point, except of course that there are settings where the realisations are from the target, for instance after a renewal event. Tuning MCMC should remain a partial mystery to readers after reading Chapter 7 as the Goldilocks principle is quite vague. Similarly, the derivation of the hyperparameters in a novel setting (not covered by the book) should prove a challenge, even though the readers are encouraged to “go forth and do some Bayes things” (page 509).

While Bayes factors are supported for some hypothesis testing (with no point null), model comparison follows more exploratory methods like X validation and expected log-predictive comparison.

The examples and exercises are diverse (if mostly US centric), modern (including cultural references that completely escape me), and often reflect on the authors’ societal concerns. In particular, their concern about a fair use of the inferred models is preminent, even though a quantitative assessment of the degree of fairness would require a much more advanced perspective than the book allows… (In that respect, Exercise 18.2 and the following ones are about book banning (in the US). Given the progressive tone of the book, and the recent ban of math textbooks in the US, I wonder if some conservative boards would consider banning it!) Concerning the Himalaya submitting running example (Chapters 18 & 19), where the probability to summit is conditional on the age of the climber and the use of additional oxygen, I am somewhat surprised that the altitude of the targeted peak is not included as a covariate. For instance, Ama Dablam (6848 m) is compared with Annapurna I (8091 m), which has the highest fatality-to-summit ratio (38%) of all. This should matter more than age: the Aosta guide Abele Blanc climbed Annapurna without oxygen at age 57! More to the point, the (practical) detailed examples do not bring unexpected conclusions, as for instance the fact that runners [thrice alas!] tend to slow down with age.

A geographical comment: Uluru (page 267) is not a city!, but an impressive sandstone monolith in the heart of Australia, a 5 hours drive away from Alice Springs. And historical mentions: Alan Turing (page 10) and the team at Bletchley Park indeed used Bayes factors (and sequential analysis) in cracking the Enigma, but this remained classified information for quite a while. Arianna Rosenbluth (page 10, but missing on page 165) was indeed a major contributor to Metropolis et al.  (1953, not cited), but would not qualify as a Bayesian statistician as the goal of their algorithm was a characterisation of the Boltzman (or Gibbs) distribution, not statistical inference. And David Blackwell’s (page 10) Basic Statistics is possibly the earliest instance of an introductory Bayesian and decision-theory textbook, but it never mentions Bayes or Bayesianism.

[Disclaimer about potential self-plagiarism: this post or an edited version will eventually appear in my Book Review section in CHANCE.]

don’t wear your helmet, you could have a bike accident!

Posted in Kids, Running, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2022 by xi'an

As once in a while reappears the argument that wearing a bike helmet increases one’s chances of a bike accident. In the current case, it is to argue against a French regulation proposal that helmets should be compulsory for all cyclists. Without getting now into the pros and cons of compulsory helmet laws (enforced in Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as some provinces of Canada), I see little worth in the study cited by Le Monde towards this argument. As the data is poor and poorly analysed. First, there is a significant fraction of cycling accidents when the presence of an helmet is unknown. Second, the fraction of cyclists wearing helmets is based on a yearly survey involving 500 persons in a few major French cities. The conclusion that there are three times more accidents among cyclists wearing helmets than among cyclists not wearing helmets is thus not particularly reliable. Rather than the highly debatable arguments that (a) seeing a cyclist with an helmet would reduce the caution of car or bus drivers, (b) wearing an helmet would reduce the risk aversion of a cyclist, (c) sport-cyclists are mostly wearing helmets but their bikes are not appropriate for cities (!), I would not eliminate [as the authors do] the basic argument that helmeted cyclists are on average traveling longer distances. With a probability of an accident that necessarily  increases with the distance traveled. While people renting on-the-go bikes are usually biking short distances and almost never wear helmets. (For the record, I mostly wear a [bright orange] helmet but sometimes do not when going to the nearby bakery or swimming pool… Each time I had a fall, crash or accident with a car, I was wearing an helmet and I once hit my head or rather the helmet on the ground, with no consequence I am aware of!)

ABC in Svalbard [the day after]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, R, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2021 by xi'an

The following and very kind email was sent to me the day after the workshop

thanks once again to make the conference possible. It was full of interesting studies within a friendly environment, I really enjoyed it. I think it is not easy to make a comfortable and inspiring conference in a remote version and across two continents, but this has been the result. I hope to be in presence (maybe in Svalbard!) the next edition.

and I fully agree to the talks behind full of interest and diverse. And to the scheduling of the talks across antipodal locations a wee bit of a challenge, mostly because of the daylight saving time  switches! And to seeing people together being a comfort (esp. since some were enjoying wine and cheese!).

I nonetheless found the experience somewhat daunting, only alleviated by sharing a room with a few others in Dauphine and having the opportunity to react immediately (and off-the-record) to the on-going talk. As a result I find myself getting rather scared by the prospect of the incoming ISBA 2021 World meeting. With parallel sessions and an extensive schedule from 5:30am till 9:30pm (in EDT time, i.e. GMT-4) that nicely accommodates the time zones of all speakers. I am thus thinking of (safely) organising a local cluster to attend the conference together and recover some of the social interactions that are such an essential component of [real] conferences, including students’ participation. It will of course depend on whether conference centres like CIRM reopen before the end of June. And if enough people see some appeal in this endeavour. In the meanwhile, remember to register for ISBA 2021 and for free!, before 01 May.

likelihood-free and summary-free?

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2021 by xi'an

My friends and coauthors Chris Drovandi and David Frazier have recently arXived a paper entitled A comparison of likelihood-free methods with and without summary statistics. In which they indeed compare these two perspectives on approximate Bayesian methods like ABC and Bayesian synthetic likelihoods.

“A criticism of summary statistic based approaches is that their choice is often ad hoc and there will generally be an  inherent loss of information.”

In ABC methods, the recourse to a summary statistic is often advocated as a “necessary evil” against the greater evil of the curse of dimension, paradoxically providing a faster convergence of the ABC approximation (Fearnhead & Liu, 2018). The authors propose a somewhat generic selection of summary statistics based on [my undergrad mentors!] Gouriéroux’s and Monfort’s indirect inference, using a mixture of Gaussians as their auxiliary model. Summary-free solutions, as in our Wasserstein papers, rely on distances between distributions, hence are functional distances, that can be seen as dimension-free as well (or criticised as infinite dimensional). Chris and David consider energy distances (which sound very much like standard distances, except for averaging over all permutations), maximum mean discrepancy as in Gretton et al. (2012), Cramèr-von Mises distances, and Kullback-Leibler divergences estimated via one-nearest-neighbour formulas, for a univariate sample. I am not aware of any degree of theoretical exploration of these functional approaches towards the precise speed of convergence of the ABC approximation…

“We found that at least one of the full data approaches was competitive with or outperforms ABC with summary statistics across all examples.”

The main part of the paper, besides a survey of the existing solutions, is to compare the performances of these over a few chosen (univariate) examples, with the exact posterior as the golden standard. In the g & k model, the Pima Indian benchmark of ABC studies!, Cramèr does somewhat better. While it does much worse in an M/G/1 example (where Wasserstein does better, and similarly for a stereological extremes example of Bortot et al., 2007). An ordering inversed again for a toad movement model I had not seen before. While the usual provision applies, namely that this is a simulation study on unidimensional data and a small number of parameters, the design of the four comparison experiments is very careful, eliminating versions that are either too costly or too divergence, although this could be potentially criticised for being unrealistic (i.e., when the true posterior is unknown). The computing time is roughly the same across methods, which essentially remove the call to kernel based approximations of the likelihood. Another point of interest is that the distance methods are significantly impacted by transforms on the data, which should not be so for intrinsic distances! Demonstrating the distances are not intrinsic…

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