Archive for black holes

parallel tempering on optimised paths

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2021 by xi'an

Saifuddin Syed, Vittorio Romaniello, Trevor Campbell, and Alexandre Bouchard-Côté, whom I met and discussed with on my “last” trip to UBC, on December 2019, just arXived a paper on parallel tempering (PT), making the choice of tempering path an optimisation problem. They address the touchy issue of designing a sequence of tempered targets when the starting distribution π⁰, eg the prior, and the final distribution π¹, eg the posterior, are hugely different, eg almost singular.

“…theoretical analysis of reversible variants of PT has shown that adding too many intermediate chains can actually deteriorate performance (…) [while] on non reversible regime adding more chains is guaranteed to improve performances.”

The above applies to geometric combinations of π⁰ and π¹. Which “suffers from an arbitrarily suboptimal global communication barrier“, according to the authors (although the counterexample is not completely convincing since π⁰ and π¹ share the same variance). They propose a more non-linear form of tempering with constraints on the dependence of the powers on the temperature t∈(0,1).  Defining the global communication barrier as an average over temperatures of the rejection rate, the path characteristics (e.g., the coefficients of a spline function) can then be optimised in terms of this objective. And the temperature schedule is derived from the fact that the non-asymptotic round trip rate is maximized when the rejection rates are all equal. (As a side item, the technique exposed in the earlier tempering paper by Syed et al. was recently exploited for a night high resolution imaging of a black hole from the M87 galaxy.)

black holes capture Nobel

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on October 7, 2020 by xi'an

size matters

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , on May 27, 2019 by xi'an

dynamic nested sampling for stars

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2019 by xi'an

In the sequel of earlier nested sampling packages, like MultiNest, Joshua Speagle has written a new package called dynesty that manages dynamic nested sampling, primarily intended for astronomical applications. Which is the field where nested sampling is the most popular. One of the first remarks in the paper is that nested sampling can be more easily implemented by using a Uniform reparameterisation of the prior, that is, a reparameterisation that turns the prior into a Uniform over the unit hypercube. Which means in fine that the prior distribution can be generated from a fixed vector of uniforms and known transforms. Maybe not such an issue given that this is the prior after all.  The author considers this makes sampling under the likelihood constraint a much simpler problem but it all depends in the end on the concentration of the likelihood within the unit hypercube. And on the ability to reach the higher likelihood slices. I did not see any special trick when looking at the documentation, but reflected on the fundamental connection between nested sampling and this ability. As in the original proposal by John Skilling (2006), the slice volumes are “estimated” by simulated Beta order statistics, with no connection with the actual sequence of simulation or the problem at hand. We did point out our incomprehension for such a scheme in our Biometrika paper with Nicolas Chopin. As in earlier versions, the algorithm attempts at visualising the slices by different bounding techniques, before proceeding to explore the bounded regions by several exploration algorithms, including HMC.

“As with any sampling method, we strongly advocate that Nested Sampling should not be viewed as being strictly“better” or “worse” than MCMC, but rather as a tool that can be more or less useful in certain problems. There is no “One True Method to Rule Them All”, even though it can be tempting to look for one.”

When introducing the dynamic version, the author lists three drawbacks for the static (original) version. One is the reliance on this transform of a Uniform vector over an hypercube. Another one is that the overall runtime is highly sensitive to the choice the prior. (If simulating from the prior rather than an importance function, as suggested in our paper.) A third one is the issue that nested sampling is impervious to the final goal, evidence approximation versus posterior simulation, i.e., uses a constant rate of prior integration. The dynamic version simply modifies the number of point simulated in each slice. According to the (relative) increase in evidence provided by the current slice, estimated through iterations. This makes nested sampling a sort of inversted Wang-Landau since it sharpens the difference between slices. (The dynamic aspects for estimating the volumes of the slices and the stopping rule may hinder convergence in unclear ways, which is not discussed by the paper.) Among the many examples produced in the paper, a 200 dimension Normal target, which is an interesting object for posterior simulation in that most of the posterior mass rests on a ring away from the maximum of the likelihood. But does not seem to merit a mention in the discussion. Another example of heterogeneous regression favourably compares dynesty with MCMC in terms of ESS (but fails to include an HMC version).

[Breaking News: Although I wrote this post before the exciting first image of the black hole in M87 was made public and hence before I was aware of it, the associated AJL paper points out relying on dynesty for comparing several physical models of the phenomenon by nested sampling.]


meet the black heart of Messier

Posted in pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2019 by xi'an