Archive for C.R. Rao

Rao-Blackwellisation in the MCMC era

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2021 by xi'an

A few months ago, as indicated on this blog, I was contacted by ISR editors to write a piece on Rao-Blackwellisation, towards a special issue celebrating Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao’s 100th birthday. Gareth Roberts and I came up with this survey, now on arXiv, discussing different aspects of Monte Carlo and Markov Chain Monte Carlo that pertained to Rao-Blackwellisation, one way or another. As I discussed the topic with several friends over the Fall, it appeared that the difficulty was more in setting the boundaries. Than in finding connections. In a way anything conditioning or demarginalising or resorting to auxiliary variates is a form of Rao-Blackwellisation. When re-reading the JASA Gelfand and Smith 1990 paper where I first saw the link between the Rao-Blackwell theorem and simulation, I realised my memory of it had drifted from the original, since the authors proposed there an approximation of the marginal based on replicas rather than the original Markov chain. Being much closer to Tanner and Wong (1987) than I thought. It is only later that the true notion took shape. [Since the current version is still a draft, any comment or suggestion would be most welcomed!]

[The Art of] Regression and other stories

Posted in Books, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2020 by xi'an

CoI: Andrew sent me this new book [scheduled for 23 July on amazon] of his with Jennifer Hill and Aki Vehtari. Which I read in my garden over a few sunny morns. And as Andrew and Aki are good friends on mine, this review is definitely subjective and biased! Hence to take with a spoonful of salt.

The “other stories’ in the title is a very nice touch. And a clever idea. As the construction of regression models comes as a story to tell, from gathering and checking the data, to choosing the model specifications, to analysing the output and setting the safety lines on its interpretation and usages. I added “The Art of” in my own title as the exercise sounds very much like an art and very little like a technical or even less mathematical practice. Even though the call to the resident stat_glm R function is ubiquitous.

The style itself is very story-like, very far from a mathematical statistics book as, e.g., C.R. Rao’s Linear Statistical Inference and Its Applications. Or his earlier Linear Models which I got while drafted in the Navy. While this makes the “Stories” part most relevant, I also wonder how I could teach from this book to my own undergrad students without acquiring first (myself) the massive expertise represented by the opinions and advice on what is correct and what is not in constructing and analysing linear and generalised linear models. In the sense that I would find justifying or explaining opinionated sentences an amathematical challenge. On the other hand, it would make for a great remote course material, leading the students through the many chapters and letting them experiment with the code provided therein, creating new datasets and checking modelling assumptions. The debate between Bayesian and likelihood solutions is quite muted, with a recommendation for weakly informative priors superseded by the call for exploring the impact of one’s assumption. (Although the horseshoe prior makes an appearance, p.209!) The chapter on math and probability is somewhat superfluous as I hardly fathom a reader entering this book without a certain amount of math and stats background. (While the book warns about over-trusting bootstrap outcomes, I find the description in the Simulation chapter a wee bit too vague.) The final chapters about causal inference are quite impressive in their coverage but clearly require a significant amount of investment from the reader to truly ingest these 110 pages.

“One thing that can be confusing in statistics is that similar analyses can be performed in different ways.” (p.121)

Unsurprisingly, the authors warn the reader about simplistic and unquestioning usages of linear models and software, with a particularly strong warning about significance. (Remember Abandon Statistical Significance?!) And keep (rightly) arguing about the importance of fake data comparisons (although this can be overly confident at times). Great Chapter 11 on assumptions, diagnostics and model evaluation. And terrific Appendix B on 10 pieces of advice for improving one’s regression model. Although there are two or three pages on the topic, at the very end, I would have also appreciated a more balanced and constructive coverage of machine learning as it remains a form of regression, which can be evaluated by simulation of fake data and assessed by X validation, hence quite within the range of the book.

The document reads quite well, even pleasantly once one is over the shock at the limited amount of math formulas!, my only grumble being a terrible handwritten graph for building copters(Figure 1.9) and the numerous and sometimes gigantic square root symbols throughout the book. At a more meaningful level, it may feel as somewhat US centric, at least given the large fraction of examples dedicated to US elections. (Even though restating the precise predictions made by decent models on the eve of the 2016 election is worthwhile.) The Oscar for the best section title goes to “Cockroaches and the zero-inflated negative binomial model” (p.248)! But overall this is a very modern, stats centred, engaging and careful book on the most common tool of statistical modelling! More stories to come maybe?!

Colin Blyth (1922-2019)

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2020 by xi'an

While reading the IMS Bulletin (of March 2020), I found out that Canadian statistician Colin Blyth had died last summer. While we had never met in person, I remember his very distinctive and elegant handwriting in a few letters he sent me, including the above I have kept (along with an handwritten letter from Lucien Le Cam!). It contains suggestions about revising our Is Pitman nearness a reasonable criterion?, written with Gene Hwang and William Strawderman and which took three years to publish as it was deemed somewhat controversial. It actually appeared in JASA with discussions from Malay Ghosh, John Keating and Pranab K Sen, Shyamal Das Peddada, C. R. Rao, George Casella and Martin T. Wells, and Colin R. Blyth (with a much stronger wording than in the above letter!, like “What can be said but “It isn’t I, it’s you that are crazy?”). While I had used some of his admissibility results, including the admissibility of the Normal sample average in dimension one, e.g. in my book, I had not realised at the time that Blyth was (a) the first student of Erich Lehmann (b) the originator of [the name] Simpson’s paradox, (c) the scribe for Lehmann’s notes that would eventually lead to Testing Statistical Hypotheses and Theory of Point Estimation, later revised with George Casella. And (d) a keen bagpipe player and scholar.

Rao-Blackwellisation, a review in the making

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2020 by xi'an

Recently, I have been contacted by a mainstream statistics journal to write a review of Rao-Blackwellisation techniques in computational statistics, in connection with an issue celebrating C.R. Rao’s 100th birthday. As many many techniques can be interpreted as weak forms of Rao-Blackwellisation, as e.g. all auxiliary variable approaches, I am clearly facing an abundance of riches and would thus welcome suggestions from Og’s readers on the major advances in Monte Carlo methods that can be connected with the Rao-Blackwell-Kolmogorov theorem. (On the personal and anecdotal side, I only met C.R. Rao once, in 1988, when he came for a seminar at Purdue University where I was spending the year.)

Jubilee at the University of Calcutta

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2017 by xi'an

The main reason for my trip to India was taking part in the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the Department of Statistics at the University of Calcutta and of the 100th anniversary of the birth of P.K. Bose (whom I did not know before visiting Kolkata). The Department of Statistics was created in 1941 by Mahalanobis, the very first statistics department in Asia. (Mahalanobis was also instrumental in creating the ISI in 1932. And Sankhyā in 1933.)  Fisher visited Calcutta very often and was very supportive of Mahalanobis’ efforts: in the corridor, the above picture of Fisher is displayed, with him surrounded by faculties and graduates from the Department when he came in 1941.

Although I missed the first two days of the conference (!), I enjoyed very much the exchanges I had with graduate students there, about my talk on folded MCMC and other MCMC and Bayesian issues. (With The Bayesian Choice being an easy conversational bridge-way between us as it is their Bayesian textbook.) The setting reminded me of the ISBA conference in Varanasi four years ago, with the graduate students being strongly involved and providing heavy support in the organisation, as well as eager to discuss academic and non-academic issue. (Plus offering us one evening an amazing cultural show of songs and dances.) Continue reading