Archive for Brisbane

nested sampling via SMC

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2020 by xi'an

“We show that by implementing a special type of [sequential Monte Carlo] sampler that takes two im-portance sampling paths at each iteration, one obtains an analogous SMC method to [nested sampling] that resolves its main theoretical and practical issues.”

A paper by Queenslander Robert Salomone, Leah South, Chris Drovandi and Dirk Kroese that I had missed (and recovered by Grégoire after we discussed this possibility with our Master students). On using SMC in nested sampling. What are the difficulties mentioned in the above quote?

  1. Dependence between the simulated samples, since only the offending particle is moved by one or several MCMC steps. (And MultiNest is not a foolproof solution.)
  2. The error due to quadrature is hard to evaluate, with parallelised versions aggravating the error.
  3. There is a truncation error due to the stopping rule when the exact maximum of the likelihood function is unknown.

Not mentioning the Monte Carlo error, of course, which should remain at the √n level.

“Nested Sampling is a special type of adaptive SMC algorithm, where weights are assigned in a suboptimal way.”

The above remark is somewhat obvious for a fixed sequence of likelihood levels and a set of particles at each (ring) level. moved by a Markov kernel with the right stationary target. Constrained to move within the ring, which may prove delicate in complex settings. Such a non-adaptive version is however not realistic and hence both the level sets and the stopping rule need be selected from the existing simulation, respectively as a quantile of the observed likelihood and as a failure to modify the evidence approximation, an adaptation that is a Catch 22! as we already found in the AMIS paper.  (AMIS stands for adaptive mixture importance sampling.) To escape the quandary, the authors use both an auxiliary variable (to avoid atoms) and two importance sampling sequences (as in AMIS). And only a single particle with non-zero incremental weight for the (upper level) target. As the full details are a bit fuzzy to me, I hope I can experiment with my (quarantined) students on the full implementation of the method.

“Such cases asides, the question whether SMC is preferable using the TA or NS approach is really one of whether it is preferable to sample (relatively) easy distributions subject to a constraint or to sample potentially difficult distributions.”

A question (why not regular SMC?) I was indeed considering until coming to the conclusion section but did not find it treated in the paper. There is little discussion on the computing requirements either, as it seems the method is more time-consuming than a regular nested sample. (On the personal side,  I appreciated very much their “special thanks to Christian Robert, whose many blog posts on NS helped influence this work, and played a large partin inspiring it.”)

robust Bayesian synthetic likelihood

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2019 by xi'an

David Frazier (Monash University) and Chris Drovandi (QUT) have recently come up with a robustness study of Bayesian synthetic likelihood that somehow mirrors our own work with David. In a sense, Bayesian synthetic likelihood is definitely misspecified from the start in assuming a Normal distribution on the summary statistics. When the data generating process is misspecified, even were the Normal distribution the “true” model or an appropriately converging pseudo-likelihood, the simulation based evaluation of the first two moments of the Normal is biased. Of course, for a choice of a summary statistic with limited information, the model can still be weakly compatible with the data in that there exists a pseudo-true value of the parameter θ⁰ for which the synthetic mean μ(θ⁰) is the mean of the statistics. (Sorry if this explanation of mine sounds unclear!) Or rather the Monte Carlo estimate of μ(θ⁰) coincidences with that mean.The same Normal toy example as in our paper leads to very poor performances in the MCMC exploration of the (unsympathetic) synthetic target. The robustification of the approach as proposed in the paper is to bring in an extra parameter to correct for the bias in the mean, using an additional Laplace prior on the bias to aim at sparsity. Or the same for the variance matrix towards inflating it. This over-parameterisation of the model obviously avoids the MCMC to get stuck (when implementing a random walk Metropolis with the target as a scale).

unbiased consistent nested sampling via sequential Monte Carlo [a reply]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2018 by xi'an

Rob Salomone sent me the following reply on my comments of yesterday about their recently arXived paper.

Our main goal in the paper was to show that Nested Sampling (when interpreted a certain way) is really just a member of a larger class of SMC algorithms, and exploring the consequences of that. We should point out that the section regarding calibration applies generally to SMC samplers, and hope that people give those techniques a try regardless of their chosen SMC approach.
Regarding your question about “whether or not it makes more sense to get completely SMC and forego any nested sampling flavour!”, this is an interesting point. After all, if Nested Sampling is just a special form of SMC, why not just use more standard SMC approaches? It seems that the Nested Sampling’s main advantage is its ability to cope with problems that have “phase transition’’ like behaviour, and thus is robust to a wider range of difficult problems than annealing approaches. Nevertheless, we hope this way of looking at NS (and showing that there may be variations of SMC with certain advantages) leads to improved NS and SMC methods down the line.  
Regarding your post, I should clarify a point regarding unbiasedness. The largest likelihood bound is actually set to infinity. Thus, for the fixed version of NS—SMC, one has an unbiased estimator of the “final” band. Choosing a final band prematurely will of course result in very high variance. However, the estimator is unbiased. For example, consider NS—SMC with only one strata. Then, the method reduces to simply using the prior as an importance sampling distribution for the posterior (unbiased, but often high variance).
Comments related to two specific parts of your post are below (your comments in italicised bold):
“Which never occurred as the number one difficulty there, as the simplest implementation runs a Markov chain from the last removed entry, independently from the remaining entries. Even stationarity is not an issue since I believe that the first occurrence within the level set is distributed from the constrained prior.”
This is an interesting point that we had not considered! In practice, and in many papers that apply Nested Sampling with MCMC, the common approach is to start the MCMC at one of the randomly selected “live points”, so the discussion related to independence was in regard to these common implementations.
Regarding starting the chain from outside of the level set. This is likely not done in practice as it introduces an additional difficulty of needing to propose a sample inside the required region (Metropolis–Hastings will have non—zero probability of returning a sample that is still outside the constrained region for any fixed number of iterations). Forcing the continuation of MCMC until a valid point is proposed I believe will be a subtle violation of detailed balance. Of course, the bias of such a modification may be small in practice, but it is an additional awkwardness introduced by the requirement of sample independence!
“And then, in a twist that is not clearly explained in the paper, the focus moves to an improved nested sampler that moves one likelihood value at a time, with a particle step replacing a single  particle. (Things get complicated when several particles may take the very same likelihood value, but randomisation helps.) At this stage the algorithm is quite similar to the original nested sampler. Except for the unbiased estimation of the constants, the  final constant, and the replacement of exponential weights exp(-t/N) by powers of (N-1/N)”
Thanks for pointing out that this isn’t clear, we will try to do better in the next revision! The goal of this part of the paper wasn’t necessarily to propose a new version of nested sampling. Our focus here was to demonstrate that NS–SMC is not simply the Nested Sampling idea with an SMC twist, but that the original NS algorithm with MCMC (and restarting the MCMC sampling at one of the “live points’” as people do in practice) actually is a special case of SMC (with the weights replaced with a suboptimal choice).
The most curious thing is that, as you note, the estimates of remaining prior mass in the SMC context come out as powers of (N-1)/N and not exp(-t/N). In the paper by Walter (2017), he shows that the former choice is actually superior in terms of bias and variance. It was a nice touch that the superior choice of weights came out naturally in the SMC interpretation! 
That said, as the fixed version of NS-SMC is the one with the unbiasedness and consistency properties, this was the version we used in the main statistical examples.

unbiased consistent nested sampling via sequential Monte Carlo

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2018 by xi'an

“Moreover, estimates of the marginal likelihood are unbiased.” (p.2)

Rob Salomone, Leah South, Chris Drovandi and Dirk Kroese (from QUT and UQ, Brisbane) recently arXived a paper that frames the nested sampling in such a way that marginal likelihoods can be unbiasedly (and consistently) estimated.

“Why isn’t nested sampling more popular with statisticians?” (p.7)

A most interesting question, especially given its popularity in cosmology and other branches of physics. A first drawback pointed out in the c is the requirement of independence between the elements of the sample produced at each iteration. Which never occurred as the number one difficulty there, as the simplest implementation runs a Markov chain from the last removed entry, independently from the remaining entries. Even stationarity is not an issue since I believe that the first occurrence within the level set is distributed from the constrained prior.

A second difficulty is the use of quadrature which turns integrand into step functions at random slices. Indeed, mixing Monte Carlo with numerical integration makes life much harder, as shown by the early avatars of nested sampling that only accounted for the numerical errors. (And which caused Nicolas and I to write our critical paper in Biometrika.) There are few studies of that kind in the literature, the only one I can think of being [my former PhD student] Anne Philippe‘s thesis twenty years ago.

The third issue stands with the difficulty in parallelising the method. Except by jumping k points at once, rather than going one level at a time. While I agree this makes life more complicated, I am also unsure about the severity of that issue as k nested sampling algorithms can be run in parallel and aggregated in the end, from simple averaging to something more elaborate.

The final blemish is that the nested sampling estimator has a stopping mechanism that induces a truncation error, again maybe a lesser problem given the overall difficulty in assessing the total error.

The paper takes advantage of the ability of SMC to produce unbiased estimates of a sequence of normalising constants (or of the normalising constants of a sequence of targets). For nested sampling, the sequence is made of the prior distribution restricted to an embedded sequence of level sets. With another sequence restricted to bands (likelihood between two likelihood boundaries). If all restricted posteriors of the second kind and their normalising constant are known, the full posterior is known. Apparently up to the main normalising constant, i.e. the marginal likelihood., , except that it is also the sum of all normalising constants. Handling this sequence by SMC addresses the four concerns of the four authors, apart from the truncation issue, since the largest likelihood bound need be set for running the algorithm.

When the sequence of likelihood bounds is chosen based on the observed likelihoods so far, the method becomes adaptive. Requiring again the choice of a stopping rule that may induce bias if stopping occurs too early. And then, in a twist that is not clearly explained in the paper, the focus moves to an improved nested sampler that moves one likelihood value at a time, with a particle step replacing a single particle. (Things get complicated when several particles may take the very same likelihood value, but randomisation helps.) At this stage the algorithm is quite similar to the original nested sampler. Except for the unbiased estimation of the constants, the final constant, and the replacement of exponential weights exp(-t/N) by powers of (N-1/N).

The remainder of this long paper (61 pages!) is dedicated to practical implementation, calibration and running a series of comparisons. A nice final touch is the thanks to the ‘Og for its series of posts on nested sampling, which “helped influence this work, and played a large part in inspiring it.”

In conclusion, this paper is certainly a worthy exploration of the nested sampler, providing further arguments towards a consistent version, with first and foremost an (almost?) unbiased resolution. The comparison with a wide range of alternatives remains open, in particular time-wise, if evidence is the sole target of the simulation. For instance, the choice of this sequence of targets in an SMC may be improved by another sequence, since changing one particle at a time does not sound efficient. The complexity of the implementation and in particular of the simulation from the prior under more and more stringent constraints need to be addressed.

positions at QUT stats

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2017 by xi'an

Chris Drovandi sent me the information that the Statistics GroupQUT, Brisbane, is advertising for three positions:

This is a great opportunity, a very active group, and a great location, which I visited several times, so if interested apply before October 1.

Jeff down-under

Posted in Books, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on September 9, 2016 by xi'an

amsi_ssaJeff Rosenthal is the AMSI-SSA (Australia Mathematical Sciences Institute – Statistical Society of Australia) lecturer this year and, as I did in 2012, will tour Australia giving seminars. Including this one at QUT. Enjoy, if you happen to be down-under!

scalable Bayesian inference for the inverse temperature of a hidden Potts model

Posted in Books, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2015 by xi'an

Brisbane, summer 2008Matt Moores, Tony Pettitt, and Kerrie Mengersen arXived a paper yesterday comparing different computational approaches to the processing of hidden Potts models and of the intractable normalising constant in the Potts model. This is a very interesting paper, first because it provides a comprehensive survey of the main methods used in handling this annoying normalising constant Z(β), namely pseudo-likelihood, the exchange algorithm, path sampling (a.k.a., thermal integration), and ABC. A massive simulation experiment with individual simulation times up to 400 hours leads to select path sampling (what else?!) as the (XL) method of choice. Thanks to a pre-computation of the expectation of the sufficient statistic E[S(Z)|β].  I just wonder why the same was not done for ABC, as in the recent Statistics and Computing paper we wrote with Matt and Kerrie. As it happens, I was actually discussing yesterday in Columbia of potential if huge improvements in processing Ising and Potts models by approximating first the distribution of S(X) for some or all β before launching ABC or the exchange algorithm. (In fact, this is a more generic desiderata for all ABC methods that simulating directly if approximately the summary statistics would being huge gains in computing time, thus possible in final precision.) Simulating the distribution of the summary and sufficient Potts statistic S(X) reduces to simulating this distribution with a null correlation, as exploited in Cucala and Marin (2013, JCGS, Special ICMS issue). However, there does not seem to be an efficient way to do so, i.e. without reverting to simulating the entire grid X…