## Monte Carlo Markov chains

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2020 by xi'an

Darren Wraith pointed out this (currently free access) Springer book by Massimiliano Bonamente [whose family name means good spirit in Italian] to me for its use of the unusual Monte Carlo Markov chain rendering of MCMC.  (Google Trend seems to restrict its use to California!) This is a graduate text for physicists, but one could nonetheless expect more rigour in the processing of the topics. Particularly of the Bayesian topics. Here is a pot-pourri of memorable quotes:

“Two major avenues are available for the assignment of probabilities. One is based on the repetition of the experiments a large number of times under the same conditions, and goes under the name of the frequentist or classical method. The other is based on a more theoretical knowledge of the experiment, but without the experimental requirement, and is referred to as the Bayesian approach.”

“The Bayesian probability is assigned based on a quantitative understanding of the nature of the experiment, and in accord with the Kolmogorov axioms. It is sometimes referred to as empirical probability, in recognition of the fact that sometimes the probability of an event is assigned based upon a practical knowledge of the experiment, although without the classical requirement of repeating the experiment for a large number of times. This method is named after the Rev. Thomas Bayes, who pioneered the development of the theory of probability.”

“The likelihood P(B/A) represents the probability of making the measurement B given that the model A is a correct description of the experiment.”

“…a uniform distribution is normally the logical assumption in the absence of other information.”

“The Gaussian distribution can be considered as a special case of the binomial, when the number of tries is sufficiently large.”

“This clearly does not mean that the Poisson distribution has no variance—in that case, it would not be a random variable!”

“The method of moments therefore returns unbiased estimates for the mean and variance of every distribution in the case of a large number of measurements.”

“The great advantage of the Gibbs sampler is the fact that the acceptance is 100 %, since there is no rejection of candidates for the Markov chain, unlike the case of the Metropolis–Hastings algorithm.”

Let me then point out (or just whine about!) the book using “statistical independence” for plain independence, the use of / rather than Jeffreys’ | for conditioning (and sometimes forgetting \ in some LaTeX formulas), the confusion between events and random variables, esp. when computing the posterior distribution, between models and parameter values, the reliance on discrete probability for continuous settings, as in the Markov chain chapter, confusing density and probability, using Mendel’s pea data without mentioning the unlikely fit to the expected values (or, as put more subtly by Fisher (1936), “the data of most, if not all, of the experiments have been falsified so as to agree closely with Mendel’s expectations”), presenting Fisher’s and Anderson’s Iris data [a motive for rejection when George was JASA editor!] as a “a new classic experiment”, mentioning Pearson but not Lee for the data in the 1903 Biometrika paper “On the laws of inheritance in man” (and woman!), and not accounting for the discrete nature of this data in the linear regression chapter, the three page derivation of the Gaussian distribution from a Taylor expansion of the Binomial pmf obtained by differentiating in the integer argument, spending endless pages on deriving standard properties of classical distributions, this appalling mess of adding over the conditioning atoms with no normalisation in a Poisson experiment

$P(X=4|\mu=0,1,2) = \sum_{\mu=0}^2 \frac{\mu^4}{4!}\exp\{-\mu\}$,

botching the proof of the CLT, which is treated before the Law of Large Numbers, restricting maximum likelihood estimation to the Gaussian and Poisson cases and muddling its meaning by discussing unbiasedness, confusing a drifted Poisson random variable with a drift on its parameter, as well as using the pmf of the Poisson to define an area under the curve (Fig. 5.2), sweeping the improperty of a constant prior under the carpet, defining a null hypothesis as a range of values for a summary statistic, no mention of Bayesian perspectives in the hypothesis testing, model comparison, and regression chapters, having one-dimensional case chapters followed by two-dimensional case chapters, reducing model comparison to the use of the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, processing bootstrap and jackknife in the Monte Carlo chapter without a mention of importance sampling, stating recurrence results without assuming irreducibility, motivating MCMC by the intractability of the evidence, resorting to the term link to designate the current value of a Markov chain, incorporating the need for a prior distribution in a terrible description of the Metropolis-Hastings algorithm, including a discrete proof for its stationarity, spending many pages on early 1990’s MCMC convergence tests rather than discussing the adaptive scaling of proposal distributions, the inclusion of numerical tables [in a 2017 book] and turning Bayes (1763) into Bayes and Price (1763), or Student (1908) into Gosset (1908).

[Usual disclaimer about potential self-plagiarism: this post or an edited version of it could possibly appear later in my Books Review section in CHANCE. Unlikely, though!]

## deduplication and population size estimation [discussion]

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , on April 23, 2020 by xi'an

[Here is my discussion on the paper “A Unified Framework for De-Duplication and Population Size Estimation” by [my friends] Andrea Tancredi, Rebecca Steorts, and Brunero Liseo, to appear on the June 2020 issue of Bayesian Analysis. The deadline is 24 April. Discussions are to be submitted to BA as regular submissions.]

Congratulations to the authors, for this paper that expand the modelling of populations investigated by faulty surveys, a poor quality feature that applies to extreme cases like Syria casualties. And possibly COVID-19 victims.

The model considered in this paper, as given by (2.1), is a latent variable model which appears as hyper-parameterised in the sense it involves a large number of parameters and latent variables. First, this means it is essentially intractable outside a Bayesian resolution. Second, within the Bayesian perspective, it calls for identifiability and consistency questions, namely which fraction of the unknown entities is identifiable and which fraction can be consistently estimated, eventually severing the dependence on the prior modelling. Personal experiences with capture-recapture models on social data like drug addict populations showed me that prior choices often significantly drive posterior inference on the population size. Here, it seems that the generative distortion mechanism between registry of individuals and actual records is paramount.

“We now investigate an alternative aspect of the uniform prior distribution of λ given N.”

Since the practical application stressed in the title, namely some of civil casualties in Syria, interrogations take a more topical flavour as one wonders at the connection between the model and the actual data, between the prior modelling and the available prior information. It is however not the strategy adopted in the paper, which instead proposes a generic prior modelling that could be deemed to be non-informative. I find the property that conditioning on the list sizes eliminates the capture probabilities and the duplication rates quite amazing, reminding me indeed of similar properties for conjugate mixtures, although we found the property hard to exploit from a computational viewpoint. And that the hit-miss model provides computationally tractable marginal distributions for the cluster observations.

“Several records of the VDC data set represent unidentified victims and report only the date of death or do not have the first name and report only the relationship with the head of the family.”

This non-informative choice is however quite informative in the misreporting mechanism and does not address the issue that it presumably is misspecified. It indeed makes the assumption that individual label and type of record are jointly enough to explain the probability of misreporting the exact record. In practical cases, it seems more realistic that the probability to appear in a list depends on the characteristics of an individual, hence far from being uniform as well as independent from one list to the next. The same applies to the probability of being misreported. The alternative to the uniform allocation of individuals to lists found in (3.3) remains neutral to the reasons why (some) individuals are missing from (some) lists. No informative input is indeed made here on how duplicates could appear or on how errors are made in registering individuals. Furthermore, given the high variability observed in inferring the number of actual deaths covered by the collection of the two lists, it would have been of interest to include a model comparison assessment, especially when contemplating the clash between the four posteriors in Figure 4.

The implementation of a manageable Gibbs sampler in such a convoluted model is quite impressive and one would welcome further comments from the authors on its convergence properties, since it is facing a large dimensional space. Are there theoretical or numerical irreducibility issues for instance, created by the discrete nature of some latent variables as in mixture models?

## Mea Culpa

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2020 by xi'an

[A quote from Jaynes about improper priors that I had missed in his book, Probability Theory.]

For many years, the present writer was caught in this error just as badly as anybody else, because Bayesian calculations with improper priors continued to give just the reasonable and clearly correct results that common sense demanded. So warnings about improper priors went unheeded; just that psychological phenomenon. Finally, it was the marginalization paradox that forced recognition that we had only been lucky in our choice of problems. If we wish to consider an improper prior, the only correct way of doing it is to approach it as a well-defined limit of a sequence of proper priors. If the correct limiting procedure should yield an improper posterior pdf for some parameter α, then probability theory is telling us that the prior information and data are too meager to permit any inferences about α. Then the only remedy is to seek more data or more prior information; probability theory does not guarantee in advance that it will lead us to a useful answer to every conceivable question.Generally, the posterior pdf is better behaved than the prior because of the extra information in the likelihood function, and the correct limiting procedure yields a useful posterior pdf that is analytically simpler than any from a proper prior. The most universally useful results of Bayesian analysis obtained in the past are of this type, because they tended to be rather simple problems, in which the data were indeed so much more informative than the prior information that an improper prior gave a reasonable approximation – good enough for all practical purposes – to the strictly correct results (the two results agreed typically to six or more significant figures).

In the future, however, we cannot expect this to continue because the field is turning to more complex problems in which the prior information is essential and the solution is found by computer. In these cases it would be quite wrong to think of passing to an improper prior. That would lead usually to computer crashes; and, even if a crash is avoided, the conclusions would still be, almost always, quantitatively wrong. But, since likelihood functions are bounded, the analytical solution with proper priors is always guaranteed to converge properly to finite results; therefore it is always possible to write a computer program in such a way (avoid underflow, etc.) that it cannot crash when given proper priors. So, even if the criticisms of improper priors on grounds of marginalization were unjustified,it remains true that in the future we shall be concerned necessarily with proper priors.

## deduplication and population size estimation [discussion opened]

Posted in Books, pictures, Running, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , on March 27, 2020 by xi'an

A call (worth disseminating) for discussions on the paper “A Unified Framework for De-Duplication and Population Size Estimation” by [my friends] Andrea Tancredi, Rebecca Steorts, and Brunero Liseo, to appear on the June 2020 issue of Bayesian Analysis. The deadline is 24 April.

Data de-duplication is the process of detecting records in one or more datasets which refer to the same entity. In this paper we tackle the de-duplication process via a latent entity model, where the observed data are perturbed versions of a set of key variables drawn from a finite population of N different entities. The main novelty of our approach is to consider the population size N as an unknown model parameter. As a result, a salient feature of the proposed method is the capability of the model to account for the de-duplication uncertainty in the population size estimation. As by-products of our approach we illustrate the relationships between de-duplication problems and capture-recapture models and we obtain a more adequate prior distribution on the linkage structure. Moreover we propose a novel simulation algorithm for the posterior distribution of the matching configuration based on the marginalization of the key variables at population level. We apply our method to two synthetic data sets comprising German names. In addition we illustrate a real data application, where we match records from two lists which report information about people killed in the recent Syrian conflict.

## are pseudopriors required in Bayesian model selection?

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 29, 2020 by xi'an

An interesting question from X validated about constructing pseudo-priors for Bayesian model selection. Namely, how useful are these for the concept rather than the implementation? The only case where I am aware of pseudo-priors being used is in Bayesian MCMC algorithms such as Carlin and Chib (1995), where the distributions are used to complement the posterior distribution conditional on a single model (index) into a joint distribution across all model parameters. The trick of this construction is that the pseudo-priors can be essentially anything, including depending on the data as well. And while the impact the ability of the resulting Markov chain to move between spaces, they have no say on the resulting inference, either when choosing a model or when estimating the parameters of a chosen model. The concept of pseudo-priors was also central to the mis-interpretations found in Congdon (2006) and Scott (2002). Which we reanalysed with Jean-Michel Marin in Bayesian Analysis (2008) as the distinction between model-based posteriors and joint pseudo-posteriors.

## logic (not logistic!) regression

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2020 by xi'an

A Bayesian Analysis paper by Aliaksandr Hubin, Geir Storvik, and Florian Frommlet on Bayesian logic regression was open for discussion. Here are some hasty notes I made during our group discussion in Paris Dauphine (and later turned into a discussion submitted to Bayesian Analysis):

“Originally logic regression was introduced together with likelihood based model selection, where simulated annealing served as a strategy to obtain one “best” model.”

Indeed, logic regression is not to be confused with logistic regression! Rejection of a true model in Bayesian model choice leads to Bayesian model choice and… apparently to Bayesian logic regression. The central object of interest is a generalised linear model based on a vector of binary covariates and using some if not all possible logical combinations (trees) of said covariates (leaves). The GLM is further using rather standard indicators to signify whether or not some trees are included in the regression (and hence the model). The prior modelling on the model indices sounds rather simple (simplistic?!) in that it is only function of the number of active trees, leading to an automated penalisation of larger trees and not accounting for a possible specificity of some covariates. For instance when dealing with imbalanced covariates (much more 1 than 0, say).

A first question is thus how much of a novel model this is when compared with say an analysis of variance since all covariates are dummy variables. Culling the number of trees away from the exponential of exponential number of possible covariates remains obscure but, without it, the model is nothing but variable selection in GLMs, except for “enjoying” a massive number of variables. Note that there could be a connection with variable length Markov chain models but it is not exploited there.

“…using Jeffrey’s prior for model selection has been widely criticized for not being consistent once the true model coincides with the null model.”

A second point that strongly puzzles me in the paper is its loose handling of improper priors. It is well-known that improper priors are at worst fishy in model choice settings and at best avoided altogether, to wit the Lindley-Jeffreys paradox and friends. Not only does the paper adopts the notion of a same, improper, prior on the GLM scale parameter, which is a position adopted in some of the Bayesian literature, but it also seems to be using an improper prior on each set of parameters (further undifferentiated between models). Because the priors operate on different (sub)sets of parameters, I think this jeopardises the later discourse on the posterior probabilities of the different models since they are not meaningful from a probabilistic viewpoint, with no joint distribution as a reference, neither marginal density. In some cases, p(y|M) may become infinite. Referring to a “simple Jeffrey’s” prior in this setting is therefore anything but simple as Jeffreys (1939) himself shied away from using improper priors on the parameter of interest. I find it surprising that this fundamental and well-known difficulty with improper priors in hypothesis testing is not even alluded to in the paper. Its core setting thus seems to be flawed. Now, the numerical comparison between Jeffrey’s [sic] prior and a regular g-prior exhibits close proximity and I thus wonder at the reason. Could it be that the culling and selection processes end up having the same number of variables and thus eliminate the impact of the prior? Or is it due to the recourse to a Laplace approximation of the marginal likelihood that completely escapes the lack of definition of the said marginal? Computing the normalising constant and repeating this computation while the algorithm is running ignores the central issue.

“…hereby, all states, including all possible models of maximum sized, will eventually be visited.”

Further, I found some confusion between principles and numerics. And as usual bemoan the acronym inflation with the appearance of a GMJMCMC! Where G stands for genetic (algorithm), MJ for mode jumping, and MCMC for…, well no surprise there! I was not aware of the mode jumping algorithm of Hubin and Storvik (2018), so cannot comment on the very starting point of the paper. A fundamental issue with Markov chains on discrete spaces is that the notion of neighbourhood becomes quite fishy and is highly dependent on the nature of the covariates. And the Markovian aspects are unclear because of the self-avoiding aspect of the algorithm. The novel algorithm is intricate and as such seems to require a superlative amount of calibration. Are all modes truly visited, really? (What are memetic algorithms?!)

## an arithmetic mean identity

Posted in Books, pictures, R, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2019 by xi'an

A 2017 paper by Ana Pajor published in Bayesian Analysis addresses my favourite problem [of computing the marginal likelihood] and which I discussed on the ‘Og, linking with another paper by Lenk published in 2012 in JCGS. That I already discussed here last year. Lenk’s (2009) paper is actually using a technique related to the harmonic mean correction based on HPD regions Darren Wraith and myself proposed at MaxEnt 2009. And which Jean-Michel and I presented at Frontiers of statistical decision making and Bayesian analysis in 2010. As I had only vague memories about the arithmetic mean version, we discussed the paper together with graduate students in Paris Dauphine.

The arithmetic mean solution, representing the marginal likelihood as the prior average of the likelihood, is a well-known approach used as well as the basis for nested sampling. With the improvement consisting in restricting the simulation to a set Ð with sufficiently high posterior probability. I am quite uneasy about P(Ð|y) estimated by 1 as the shape of the set containing all posterior simulations is completely arbitrary, parameterisation dependent, and very random since based on the extremes of this posterior sample. Plus, the set Ð converges to the entire parameter space with the number of posterior simulations. An alternative that we advocated in our earlier paper is to take Ð as the HPD region or a variational Bayes version . But the central issue with the HPD regions is how to construct these from an MCMC output and how to compute both P(Ð) and P(Ð|y). It does not seem like a good idea to set P(Ð|x) to the intended α level for the HPD coverage. Using a non-parametric version for estimating Ð could be in the end the only reasonable solution.

As a test, I reran the example of a conjugate normal model used in the paper, based on (exact) simulations from both the prior and  the posterior, and obtained approximations that were all close from the true marginal. With Chib’s being exact in that case (of course!), and an arithmetic mean surprisingly close without an importance correction:

> print(c(hame,chme,came,chib))
[1] -107.6821 -106.5968 -115.5950 -115.3610


Both harmonic versions are of the right order but not trustworthy, the truncation to such a set Ð as the one chosen in this paper having little impact.