## Estimating means of bounded random variables by betting

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2023 by xi'an

Ian Waudby-Smith and Aaditya Ramdas are presenting next month a Read Paper to the Royal Statistical Society in London on constructing a conservative confidence interval on the mean of a bounded random variable. Here is an extended abstract from within the paper:

For each m ∈ [0, 1], we set up a “fair” multi-round game of statistician
against nature whose payoff rules are such that if the true mean happened
to equal m, then the statistician can neither gain nor lose wealth in
expectation (their wealth in the m-th game is a nonnegative martingale),
but if the mean is not m, then it is possible to bet smartly and make
money. Each round involves the statistician making a bet on the next
observation, nature revealing the observation and giving the appropriate
(positive or negative) payoff to the statistician. The statistician then plays
all these games (one for each m) in parallel, starting each with one unit of
wealth, and possibly using a different, adaptive, betting strategy in each.
The 1 − α confidence set at time t consists of all m 2 [0, 1] such that the
statistician’s money in the corresponding game has not crossed 1/α. The
true mean μ will be in this set with high probability.

I read the paper on the flight back from Venice and was impressed by its universality, especially for a non-asymptotic method, while finding the expository style somewhat unusual for Series B, with notions late into being defined if at all defined. As an aside, I also enjoyed the historical connection to Jean Ville‘s 1939 PhD thesis (examined by Borel, Fréchet—his advisor—and Garnier) on a critical examination of [von Mises’] Kollektive. (The story by Glenn Shafer of Ville’s life till the war is remarkable, with the de Beauvoir-Sartre couple making a surprising and rather unglorious appearance!). Himself inspired by a meeting with Wald while in Berlin. The paper remains quite allusive about Ville‘s contribution, though, while arguing about its advance respective to Ville’s work… The confidence intervals (and sequences) depend on a supermartingale construction of the form

$M_t(m):=\prod_{i=1}^t \exp\left\{ \lambda_i(X_i-m)-v_i\psi(\lambda_i)\right\}$

which allows for a universal coverage guarantee of the derived intervals (and can optimised in λ). As I am getting confused by that point about the overall purpose of the analysis, besides providing an efficient confidence construction, and am lacking in background about martingales, betting, and sequential testing, I will not contribute to the discussion. Especially since ChatGPT cannot help me much, with its main “criticisms” (which I managed to receive while in Italy, despite the Italian Government banning the chabot!)

However, there are also some potential limitations and challenges to this approach. One limitation is that the accuracy of the method is dependent on the quality of the prior distribution used to set the odds. If the prior distribution is poorly chosen, the resulting estimates may be inaccurate. Additionally, the method may not work well for more complex or high-dimensional problems, where there may not be a clear and intuitive way to set up the betting framework.

and

Another potential consequence is that the use of a betting framework could raise ethical concerns. For example, if the bets are placed on sensitive or controversial topics, such as medical research or political outcomes, there may be concerns about the potential for manipulation or bias in the betting markets. Additionally, the use of betting as a method for scientific or policy decision-making may raise questions about the appropriate role of gambling in these contexts.

being totally off the radar… (No prior involved, no real-life consequence for betting, no gambling.)

## the Kelly criterion and then some

Posted in R, Statistics with tags , , , , , on August 26, 2022 by xi'an

The Kelly criterion is a way to optimise an unlimited sequence of bets under the following circumstances: a probability p of winning each bet, a loss of a fraction a of the sum bet, a gain of a fraction b of the sum bet, and a fraction f of the current fortune as the sum bet. Then

$f^*=\dfrac{p}{a}-\dfrac{1-p}{b}$

$\mathbb E[ \log\{X_n/X_0\}^{1/n}]$

Here is a rendering of the empirical probability of reaching 250 before ruin, when starting with a fortune of 100, when a=1, p=0.3 and f and b vary (on a small grid). With on top Kelly’s solutions, meaning that they achieve a high probability of avoiding ruin. Until they cannot.

The Ridder is asking for a variant of this betting scheme, when the probability p to win the bet is proportional to 1/(1+b), namely .9/(1+b). In that case, the probabilities of reaching 250 (using the same R code as above) before ruin are approximated as followswith a maximal probability that does not exceed 0.36, the probability to win in one go, betting 100 with a goal of 250. It thus may be that the optimal choice, probabilitiwise is that one. Note that in that case, whatever the value of b, the Kelly criterion returns a negative fraction. Actually, the solution posted by the Riddler the week after is slightly above, 0.3686 or 1−(3/5)9/10. Which I never reached by the sequential bet of a fixed fraction of the current fortune, eps. when not accounting for the fact that aiming at 250 rather than a smaller target was removing a .9 factor.

## the biggest bluff [not a book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2020 by xi'an

It came as a surprise to me that the book reviewed in the book review section of Nature of 25 June was a personal account of a professional poker player, The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova.  (Surprise enough to write a blog entry!) As I see very little scientific impetus in studying the psychology of poker players and the associated decision making. Obviously, this is not a book review, but a review of the book review. (Although the NYT published a rather extensive extract of the book, from which I cannot detect anything deep from a game-theory viewpoint. Apart from the maybe-not-so-deep message that psychology matters a lot in poker…) Which does not bring much incentive for those uninterested (or worse) in money games like poker. Even when “a heap of Bayesian model-building [is] thrown in”, as the review mixes randomness and luck, while seeing the book as teaching the reader “how to play the game of life”, a type of self-improvement vending line one hardly expects to read in a scientific journal. (But again I have never understood the point in playing poker…)

## a hatchet job [book review]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2019 by xi'an

By happenstance, I came across a rather savage review of John Hartigan’s Bayes Theory (1984) written by Bruce Hill in HASA, including the following slivers:

“By and large this book is at its best in developing the mathematical consequences of the theory and at its worst when dealing with the underlying ideas and concepts, which seems unfortunate since Bayesian statistics is above all an attempt to deal realistically with the nature of uncertainty and decision making.” B. Hill, JASA, 1986, p.569

“Unfortunately, those who had hoped for a serious contribution to the question will be disappointed.” B. Hill, JASA, 1986, p.569

“If the primary concern is mathematical convenience, not content or meaning, then the enterprise is a very different matter from what most of us think of as Bayesian approach.” B. Hill, JASA, 1986, p.570

“Perhaps in a century or two statisticians and probabilists will reach a similar state of maturity.” B. Hill, JASA, 1986, p.570

Perhaps this is a good place to mention that the notation in the book is formidable. Bayes’s theorem appears in a form that is  almost unrecognizable. As elsewhere, the mathematical treatment is elegant. but none of the deeper issues about the meaning and interpretation of conditional probability is discussed.” B. Hill, JASA, 1986, p.570

“The reader will find many intriguing ideas, much that is outrageous, and even some surprises (the likelihood principle is not mentioned, and conditional inference is just barely mentioned).” B. Hill, JASA, 1986, p.571

What is disappointing to me is that with a little more discipline and effort with regard to the ideas underlying Bayesian statistics, this book could have been a major contribution to the theory.” B. Hill, JASA, 1986, p.571

Another review by William Sudderth (1985, Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society) is much kinder to the book, except for the complaint that “the pace is brisk and sometimes hard to follow”.

## 61% above average!

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , on March 14, 2016 by xi'an

“The study, which uses gambling commission data, reveals that 61% of Paddy Power’s 349 betting shops are located in areas with above average levels of non-UK born population.” The Guardian, March 06, 2016

Uh… Is it significant?! But a deeper reading of The Guardian article reveals that the “percentage share of operator’s shops that are located in the 40 UK authorities with the highest percentage minority ethnic populations” is 61%, which is definitely not the same thing as the above. As there are apparently 353 principal authorities for England alone. Another journalistic shortcut… (Incidentally, the 349 in the quote does not connect with the 353 authorities.)