## machine-learning harmonic mean

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , on February 25, 2022 by xi'an

In a recent arXival, Jason McEwen propose a resurrection of the “infamous” harmonic mean estimator. In Machine learning assisted Bayesian model comparison: learnt harmonic mean estimator, they propose to aim at the “optimal importance function”. The paper provides a fair coverage of the literature on that topic, incl. our 2009 paper with Darren Wraith (although I do not follow the criticism of using a uniform over an HPD region, esp. since one of the learnt targets is also a uniform over an hypersphere, presumably optimised in terms of the chosen parameterisation).

“…the learnt harmonic mean estimator, a variant of the original estimator that solves its large variance problem. This is achieved by interpreting the harmonic mean estimator as importance sampling and introducing a new target distribution (…) learned to approximate the optimal but inaccessible target, while minimising the variance of the resulting estimator. Since the estimator requires samples of the posterior only it is agnostic to the strategy used to generate posterior samples.”

The method thus builds upon Gelfand and Dey (1994) general proposal that is a form of inverse importance sampling since the numerator [the new target] is free while the denominator is the unnormalised posterior. The optimal target being the complete posterior (since it lead to a null variance), the authors propose to try to approximate this posterior by various means. (Note however that an almost Dirac mass at a value with positive posterior would work as well!, at least in principle…) as the sections on moment approximations sound rather standard (and assume the estimated variances are finite) while the reason for the inclusion of the Bayes factor approximation is rather unclear. However, I am rather skeptical at the proposals made therein towards approximating the posterior distribution, from a Gaussian mixture [for which parameterisation?] to KDEs, or worse ML tools like neural nets [not explored there, which makes one wonder about the title], as the estimands will prove very costly, and suffer from the curse of dimensionality (3 hours for d=2¹⁰…).The Pima Indian women’s diabetes dataset and its quasi-Normal posterior are used as a benchmark, meaning that James and Nicolas did not shout loud enough! And I find surprising that most examples include the original harmonic mean estimator despite its complete lack of trustworthiness.

## 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!]

## 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.)

## Siem Reap conference

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2019 by xi'an

As I returned from the conference in Siem Reap. on a flight avoiding India and Pakistan and their [brittle and bristling!] boundary on the way back, instead flying far far north, near Arkhangelsk (but with nothing to show for it, as the flight back was fully in the dark), I reflected how enjoyable this conference had been, within a highly friendly atmosphere, meeting again with many old friends (some met prior to the creation of CREST) and new ones, a pleasure not hindered by the fabulous location near Angkor of course. (The above picture is the “last hour” group picture, missing a major part of the participants, already gone!)

Among the many talks, Stéphane Shao gave a great presentation on a paper [to appear in JASA] jointly written with Pierre Jacob, Jie Ding, and Vahid Tarokh on the Hyvärinen score and its use for Bayesian model choice, with a highly intuitive representation of this divergence function (which I first met in Padua when Phil Dawid gave a talk on this approach to Bayesian model comparison). Which is based on the use of a divergence function based on the squared error difference between the gradients of the true log-score and of the model log-score functions. Providing an alternative to the Bayes factor that can be shown to be consistent, even for some non-iid data, with some gains in the experiments represented by the above graph.

Arnak Dalalyan (CREST) presented a paper written with Lionel Riou-Durand on the convergence of non-Metropolised Langevin Monte Carlo methods, with a new discretization which leads to a substantial improvement of the upper bound on the sampling error rate measured in Wasserstein distance. Moving from p/ε to √p/√ε in the requested number of steps when p is the dimension and ε the target precision, for smooth and strongly log-concave targets.

This post gives me the opportunity to advertise for the NGO Sala Baï hostelry school, which the whole conference visited for lunch and which trains youths from underprivileged backgrounds towards jobs in hostelery, supported by donations, companies (like Krama Krama), or visiting the Sala Baï  restaurant and/or hotel while in Siem Reap.

## the Hyvärinen score is back

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2017 by xi'an

Stéphane Shao, Pierre Jacob and co-authors from Harvard have just posted on arXiv a new paper on Bayesian model comparison using the Hyvärinen score

$\mathcal{H}(y, p) = 2\Delta_y \log p(y) + ||\nabla_y \log p(y)||^2$

which thus uses the Laplacian as a natural and normalisation-free penalisation for the score test. (Score that I first met in Padova, a few weeks before moving from X to IX.) Which brings a decision-theoretic alternative to the Bayes factor and which delivers a coherent answer when using improper priors. Thus a very appealing proposal in my (biased) opinion! The paper is mostly computational in that it proposes SMC and SMC² solutions to handle the estimation of the Hyvärinen score for models with tractable likelihoods and tractable completed likelihoods, respectively. (Reminding me that Pierre worked on SMC² algorithms quite early during his Ph.D. thesis.)

A most interesting remark in the paper is to recall that the Hyvärinen score associated with a generic model on a series must be the prequential (predictive) version

$\mathcal{H}_T (M) = \sum_{t=1}^T \mathcal{H}(y_t; p_M(dy_t|y_{1:(t-1)}))$

rather than the version on the joint marginal density of the whole series. (Followed by a remark within the remark that the logarithm scoring rule does not make for this distinction. And I had to write down the cascading representation

$\log p(y_{1:T})=\sum_{t=1}^T \log p(y_t|y_{1:t-1})$

to convince myself that this unnatural decomposition, where the posterior on θ varies on each terms, is true!) For consistency reasons.

This prequential decomposition is however a plus in terms of computation when resorting to sequential Monte Carlo. Since each time step produces an evaluation of the associated marginal. In the case of state space models, another decomposition of the authors, based on measurement densities and partial conditional expectations of the latent states allows for another (SMC²) approximation. The paper also establishes that for non-nested models, the Hyvärinen score as a model selection tool asymptotically selects the closest model to the data generating process. For the divergence induced by the score. Even for state-space models, under some technical assumptions.  From this asymptotic perspective, the paper exhibits an example where the Bayes factor and the Hyvärinen factor disagree, even asymptotically in the number of observations, about which mis-specified model to select. And last but not least the authors propose and assess a discrete alternative relying on finite differences instead of derivatives. Which remains a proper scoring rule.

I am quite excited by this work (call me biased!) and I hope it can induce following works as a viable alternative to Bayes factors, if only for being more robust to the [unspecified] impact of the prior tails. As in the above picture where some realisations of the SMC² output and of the sequential decision process see the wrong model being almost acceptable for quite a long while…