## 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.]

## simulating the pandemic

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 28, 2020 by xi'an

Nature of 13 November has a general public article on simulating the COVID pandemic as benefiting from the experience gained by climate-modelling methodology.

“…researchers didn’t appreciate how sensitive CovidSim was to small changes in its inputs, their results overestimated the extent to which a lockdown was likely to reduce deaths…”

The argument is essentially Bayesian, namely rather than using a best guess of the parameters of the model, esp. given the state of the available data (and the worse for March). When I read

“…epidemiologists should stress-test their simulations by running ‘ensemble’ models, in which thousands of versions of the model are run with a range of assumptions and inputs, to provide a spread of scenarios with different probabilities…”

it sounds completely Bayesian. Even though there is no discussion of the prior modelling or of the degree of wrongness of the epidemic model itself. The researchers at UCL who conducted the multiple simulations and the assessment of sensitivity to the 940 various parameters found that 19 of them had a strong impact, mostly

“…the length of the latent period during which an infected person has no symptoms and can’t pass the virus on; the effectiveness of social distancing; and how long after getting infected a person goes into isolation…”

but this outcome is predictable (and interesting). Mentions of Bayesian methods appear at the end of the paper:

“…the uncertainty in CovidSim inputs [uses] Bayesian statistical tools — already common in some epidemiological models of illnesses such as the livestock disease foot-and-mouth.”

and

“Bayesian tools are an improvement, says Tim Palmer, a climate physicist at the University of Oxford, who pioneered the use of ensemble modelling in weather forecasting.”

along with ensemble modelling, which sounds a synonym for Bayesian model averaging… (The April issue on the topic had also Bayesian aspects that were explicitely mentionned.)

## advances in Bayesian modelling a Venezia

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2018 by xi'an

## weakly informative reparameterisations

Posted in Books, pictures, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2018 by xi'an

Our paper, weakly informative reparameterisations of location-scale mixtures, with Kaniav Kamary and Kate Lee, got accepted by JCGS! Great news, which comes in perfect timing for Kaniav as she is currently applying for positions. The paper proposes a unidimensional mixture Bayesian modelling based on the first and second moment constraints, since these turn the remainder of the parameter space into a compact. While we had already developed an associated R package, Ultimixt, the current editorial policy of JCGS imposes the R code used to produce all results to be attached to the submission and it took us a few more weeks than it should have to produce a directly executable code, due to internal library incompatibilities. (For this entry, I was looking for a link to our special JCGS issue with my picture of Edinburgh but realised I did not have this picture.)

## corrected MCMC samplers for multivariate probit models

Posted in Books, pictures, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2015 by xi'an

“Moreover, IvD point out an error in Nobile’s derivation which can alter its stationary distribution. Ironically, as we shall see, the algorithms of IvD also contain an error.”

Xiyun Jiao and David A. van Dyk arXived a paper correcting an MCMC sampler and R package MNP for the multivariate probit model, proposed by Imai and van Dyk in 2005. [Hence the abbreviation IvD in the above quote.] Earlier versions of the Gibbs sampler for the multivariate probit model by Rob McCulloch and Peter Rossi in 1994, with a Metropolis update added by Agostino Nobile, and finally an improved version developed by Imai and van Dyk in 2005. As noted in the above quote, Jiao and van Dyk have discovered two mistakes in this latest version, jeopardizing the validity of the output.

The multivariate probit model considered here is a multinomial model where the occurrence of the k-th category is represented as the k-th component of a (multivariate) normal (correlated) vector being the largest of all components. The latent normal model being non-identifiable since invariant by either translation or scale, identifying constraints are used in the literature. This means using a covariance matrix of the form Σ/trace(Σ), where Σ is an inverse Wishart random matrix. In their 2005 implementation, relying on marginal data augmentation—which essentially means simulating the non-identifiable part repeatedly at various steps of the data augmentation algorithm—, Imai and van Dyk missed a translation term and a constraint on the simulated matrices that lead to simulations outside the rightful support, as illustrated from the above graph [snapshot from the arXived paper].

Since the IvD method is used in many subsequent papers, it is quite important that these mistakes are signalled and corrected. [Another snapshot above shows how much both algorithm differ!] Without much thinking about this, I [thus idly] wonder why an identifying prior is not taking the place of a hard identifying constraint, as it should solve the issue more nicely. In that it would create less constraints and more entropy (!) in exploring the augmented space, while theoretically providing a convergent approximation of the identifiable parts. I may (must!) however miss an obvious constraint preventing this implementation.