## asymptotics of synthetic likelihood [a reply from the authors]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2019 by xi'an

[Here is a reply from David, Chris, and Robert on my earlier comments, highlighting some points I had missed or misunderstood.]

Dear Christian

Thanks for your interest in our synthetic likelihood paper and the thoughtful comments you wrote about it on your blog.  We’d like to respond to the comments to avoid some misconceptions.

Your first claim is that we don’t account for the differing number of simulation draws required for each parameter proposal in ABC and synthetic likelihood.  This doesn’t seem correct, see the discussion below Lemma 4 at the bottom of page 12.  The comparison between methods is on the basis of effective sample size per model simulation.

As you say, in the comparison of ABC and synthetic likelihood, we consider the ABC tolerance \epsilon and the number of simulations per likelihood estimate M in synthetic likelihood as functions of n.  Then for tuning parameter choices that result in the same uncertainty quantification asymptotically (and the same asymptotically as the true posterior given the summary statistic) we can look at the effective sample size per model simulation.  Your objection here seems to be that even though uncertainty quantification is similar for large n, for a finite n the uncertainty quantification may differ.  This is true, but similar arguments can be directed at almost any asymptotic analysis, so this doesn’t seem a serious objection to us at least.  We don’t find it surprising that the strong synthetic likelihood assumptions, when accurate, give you something extra in terms of computational efficiency.

We think mixing up the synthetic likelihood/ABC comparison with the comparison between correctly specified and misspecified covariance in Bayesian synthetic likelihood is a bit unfortunate, since these situations are quite different.  The first involves correct uncertainty quantification asymptotically for both methods.  Only a very committed reader who looked at our paper in detail would understand what you say here.  The question we are asking with the misspecified covariance is the following.  If the usual Bayesian synthetic likelihood analysis is too much for our computational budget, can something still be done to quantify uncertainty?  We think the answer is yes, and with the misspecified covariance we can reduce the computational requirements by an order of magnitude, but with an appropriate cost statistically speaking.  The analyses with misspecified covariance give valid frequentist confidence regions asymptotically, so this may still be useful if it is all that can be done.  The examples as you say show something of the nature of the trade-off involved.

We aren’t quite sure what you mean when you are puzzled about why we can avoid having M to be O(√n).  Note that because of the way the summary statistics satisfy a central limit theorem, elements of the covariance matrix of S are already O(1/n), and so, for example, in estimating μ(θ) as an average of M simulations for S, the elements of the covariance matrix of the estimator of μ(θ) are O(1/(Mn)).  Similar remarks apply to estimation of Σ(θ).  I’m not sure whether that gets to the heart of what you are asking here or not.

In our email discussion you mention the fact that if M increases with n, then the computational burden of a single likelihood approximation and hence generating a single parameter sample also increases with n.  This is true, but unavoidable if you want exact uncertainty quantification asymptotically, and M can be allowed to increase with n at any rate.  With a fixed M there will be some approximation error, which is often small in practice.  The situation with vanilla ABC methods will be even worse, in terms of the number of proposals required to generate a single accepted sample, in the case where exact uncertainty quantification is desired asymptotically.  As shown in Li and Fearnhead (2018), if regression adjustment is used with ABC and you can find a good proposal in their sense, one can avoid this.  For vanilla ABC, if the focus is on point estimation and exact uncertainty quantification is not required, the situation is better.  Of course as you show in your nice ABC paper for misspecified models jointly with David Frazier and Juidth Rousseau recently the choice of whether to use regression adjustment can be subtle in the case of misspecification.

In our previous paper Price, Drovandi, Lee and Nott (2018) (which you also reviewed on this blog) we observed that if the summary statistics are exactly normal, then you can sample from the summary statistic posterior exactly with finite M in the synthetic likelihood by using pseudo-marginal ideas together with an unbiased estimate of a normal density due to Ghurye and Olkin (1962).  When S satisfies a central limit theorem so that S is increasingly close to normal as n gets large, we conjecture that it is possible to get exact uncertainty quantification asymptotically with fixed M if we use the Ghurye and Olkin estimator, but we have no proof of that yet (if it is true at all).

Thanks again for being interested enough in the paper to comment, much appreciated.

David, Chris, Robert.

## asymptotics of synthetic likelihood

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2019 by xi'an

David Nott, Chris Drovandi and Robert Kohn just arXived a paper on a comparison between ABC and synthetic likelihood, which is both interesting and timely given that synthetic likelihood seems to be lacking behind in terms of theoretical evaluation. I am however as puzzled by the results therein as I was by the earlier paper by Price et al. on the same topic. Maybe due to the Cambodia jetlag, which is where and when I read the paper.

My puzzlement, thus, comes from the difficulty in comparing both approaches on a strictly common ground. The paper first establishes convergence and asymptotic normality for synthetic likelihood, based on the 2003 MCMC paper of Chernozukov and Hong [which I never studied in details but that appears like the MCMC reference in the econometrics literature]. The results are similar to recent ABC convergence results, unsurprisingly when assuming a CLT on the summary statistic vector. One additional dimension of the paper is to consider convergence for a misspecified covariance matrix in the synthetic likelihood [and it will come back with a revenge]. And asymptotic normality of the synthetic score function. Which is obviously unavailable in intractable models.

The first point I have difficulty with is how the computing time required for approximating mean and variance in the synthetic likelihood, by Monte Carlo means, is not accounted for in the comparison between ABC and synthetic likelihood versions. Remember that ABC only requires one (or at most two) pseudo-samples per parameter simulation. The latter requires M, which is later constrained to increase to infinity with the sample size. Simulations that are usually the costliest in the algorithms. If ABC were to use M simulated samples as well, since it already relies on a kernel, it could as well construct [at least on principle] a similar estimator of the [summary statistic] density. Or else produce M times more pairs (parameter x pseudo-sample). The authors pointed out (once this post out) that they do account for the factor M when computing the effective sample size (before Lemma 4, page 12), but I still miss why the ESS converging to N=MN/M when M goes to infinity is such a positive feature.

Another point deals with the use of multiple approximate posteriors in the comparison. Since the approximations differ, it is unclear that convergence to a given approximation is all that should matter, if the approximation is less efficient [when compared with the original and out-of-reach posterior distribution]. Especially for a finite sample size n. This chasm in the targets becomes more evident when the authors discuss the use of a constrained synthetic likelihood covariance matrix towards requiring less pseudo-samples, i.e. lower values of M, because of a smaller number of parameters to estimate. This should be balanced against the loss in concentration of the synthetic approximation, as exemplified by the realistic examples in the paper. (It is also hard to see why M could be not of order √n for Monte Carlo reasons.)

The last section in the paper is revolving around diverse issues for misspecified models, from wrong covariance matrix to wrong generating model. As we just submitted a paper on ABC for misspecified models, I will not engage into a debate on this point but find the proposed strategy that goes through an approximation of the log-likelihood surface by a Gaussian process and a derivation of the covariance matrix of the score function apparently greedy in both calibration and computing. And not so clearly validated when the generating model is misspecified.

## Fisher’s lost information

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on February 11, 2019 by xi'an

After a post on X validated and a good discussion at work, I came to the conclusion [after many years of sweeping the puzzle under the carpet] that the (a?) Fisher information obtained for the Uniform distribution U(0,θ) as θ⁻¹ is meaningless. Indeed, there are many arguments:

1. The lack of derivability of the indicator function for x=θ is a non-issue since the derivative is defined almost everywhere.
2. In many textbooks, the Fisher information θ⁻² is derived from the Fréchet-Darmois-Cramèr-Rao inequality, which does not apply for the Uniform U(0,θ) distribution.
3. One connected argument for the expression of the Fisher information as the expectation of the squared score is that it is the variance of the score, since its expectation is zero. Except that it is not zero for the Uniform U(0,θ) distribution.
4. For the same reason, the opposite of the second derivative of the log-likelihood is not equal to the expectation of the squared score. It is actually -θ⁻²!
5. Looking at the Taylor expansion justification of the (observed) Fisher information, expanding the log-likelihood around the maximum likelihood estimator does not work since the maximum likelihood estimator does not cancel the score.
6. When computing the Fisher information for an n-sample rather than a 1-sample, the information is n²θ⁻², rather than nθ⁻².
7. Since the speed of convergence of the maximum likelihood estimator is of order n⁻², the central limit theorem does not apply and the limiting variance of the maximum likelihood estimator is not the Fisher information.

## Metropolis-Hastings importance sampling

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2018 by xi'an

[Warning: As I first got the paper from the authors and sent them my comments, this paper read contains their reply as well.]

In a sort of crazy coincidence, Daniel Rudolf and Björn Sprungk arXived a paper on a Metropolis-Hastings importance sampling estimator that offers similarities with  the one by Ingmar Schuster and Ilja Klebanov posted on arXiv the same day. The major difference in the construction of the importance sampler is that Rudolf and Sprungk use the conditional distribution of the proposal in the denominator of their importance weight, while Schuster and Klebanov go for the marginal (or a Rao-Blackwell representation of the marginal), mostly in an independent Metropolis-Hastings setting (for convergence) and for a discretised Langevin version in the applications. The former use a very functional L² approach to convergence (which reminded me of the early Schervish and Carlin, 1990, paper on the convergence of MCMC algorithms), not all of it necessary in my opinion. As for instance the extension of convergence properties to the augmented chain, namely (current, proposed), is rather straightforward since the proposed chain is a random transform of the current chain. An interesting remark at the end of the proof of the CLT is that the asymptotic variance of the importance sampling estimator is the same as with iid realisations from the target. This is a point we also noticed when constructing population Monte Carlo techniques (more than ten years ago), namely that dependence on the past in sequential Monte Carlo does not impact the validation and the moments of the resulting estimators, simply because “everything cancels” in importance ratios. The mean square error bound on the Monte Carlo error (Theorem 20) is not very surprising as the term ρ(y)²/P(x,y) appears naturally in the variance of importance samplers.

The first illustration where the importance sampler does worse than the initial MCMC estimator for a wide range of acceptance probabilities (Figures 2 and 3, which is which?) and I do not understand the opposite conclusion from the authors.

Indeed the formulation in our paper is unfortunate. The point we want to stress is that we observed in the numerical experiments certain ranges of step-sizes for which MH importance sampling shows a better performance than the classical MH algorithm with optimal scaling. Meaning that the MH importance sampling with optimal step-size can outperform MH sampling, without using additional computational resources. Surprisingly, the optimal step-size for the MH importance sampling estimator seems to remain constant for an increasing dimension in contrast to the well-known optimal scaling of the MH algorithm (given by a constant optimal acceptance rate).

The second uses the Pima Indian diabetes benchmark, amusingly (?) referring to Chopin and Ridgway (2017) who warn against the recourse to this dataset and to this model! The loss in mean square error due to the importance sampling may again be massive (Figure 5) and setting for an optimisation of the scaling factor in Metropolis-Hastings algorithms sounds unrealistic.

Indeed, Chopin and Ridgway suggest more complex problems with a larger number of covariates as benchmarks. However, the well-studied PIMA data set is a sufficient example in order to illustrate the possible benefits but also the limitations of the MH importance sampling approach. The latter are clearly (a) the required knowledge about the optimal step-size—otherwise the performance can indeed be dramatically worse than for the MH algorithm—and (b) the restriction to a small or at most moderate number of covariates. As you are indicating, optimizing the scaling factor is a challenging task. However, the hope is to derive some simple rule of thumb for the MH importance sampler similar to the well-known acceptance rate tuning for the standard MCMC estimator.

## a quincunx on NBC

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2017 by xi'an

Through Five-Thirty-Eight, I became aware of a TV game call The Wall [so appropriate for Trumpian times!] that is essentially based on Galton’s quincunx! A huge [15m!] high version of Galton’s quincunx, with seven possible starting positions instead of one, which kills the whole point of the apparatus which is to demonstrate by simulation the proximity of the Binomial distribution to the limiting Normal (density) curve.

But the TV game has obvious no interest in the CLT, or in the Beta binomial posterior, only in a visible sequence of binary events that turn out increasing or decreasing the money “earned” by the player, the highest sums being unsurprisingly less likely. The only decision made by the player is to pick one of the seven starting points (meaning the outcome should behave like a weighted sum of seven Normals with drifted means depending on the probabilities of choosing these starting points). I found one blog entry analysing an “idiot” strategy of playing the game, but not the entire game. (Except for this entry on the older Plinko.) And Five-Thirty-Eight surprisingly does not get into the optimal strategies to play this game (maybe because there is none!). Five-Thirty-Eight also reproduces the apocryphal quote of Laplace not requiring this [God] hypothesis.

[Note: When looking for a picture of the Quincunx, I also found this desktop version! Which “allows you to visualize the order embedded in the chaos of randomness”, nothing less. And has even obtain a patent for this “visual aid that demonstrates [sic] a random walk and generates [re-sic] a bell curve distribution”…]

## Monte Carlo with determinantal processes [reply from the authors]

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2016 by xi'an

[Rémi Bardenet and Adrien Hardy have written a reply to my comments of today on their paper, which is more readable as a post than as comments, so here it is. I appreciate the intention, as well as the perfect editing of the reply, suited for a direct posting!]

Thanks for your comments, Xian. As a foreword, a few people we met also had the intuition that DPPs would be relevant for Monte Carlo, but no result so far was backing this claim. As it turns out, we had to work hard to prove a CLT for importance-reweighted DPPs, using some deep recent results on orthogonal polynomials. We are currently working on turning this probabilistic result into practical algorithms. For instance, efficient sampling of DPPs is indeed an important open question, to which most of your comments refer. Although this question is out of the scope of our paper, note however that our results do not depend on how you sample. Efficient sampling of DPPs, along with other natural computational questions, is actually the crux of an ANR grant we just got, so hopefully in a few years we can write a more detailed answer on this blog! We now answer some of your other points.

“one has to examine the conditions for the result to operate, from the support being within the unit hypercube,”
Any compactly supported measure would do, using dilations, for instance. Note that we don’t assume the support is the whole hypercube.

“to the existence of N orthogonal polynomials wrt the dominating measure, not discussed here”
As explained in Section 2.1.2, it is enough that the reference measure charges some open set of the hypercube, which is for instance the case if it has a density with respect to the Lebesgue measure.

“to the lack of relation between the point process and the integrand,”
Actually, our method depends heavily on the target measure μ. Unlike vanilla QMC, the repulsiveness between the quadrature nodes is tailored to the integration problem.

“changing N requires a new simulation of the entire vector unless I missed the point.”
You’re absolutely right. This is a well-known open issue in probability, see the discussion on Terence Tao’s blog.

“This requires figuring out the upper bounds on the acceptance ratios, a “problem-dependent” request that may prove impossible to implement”
We agree that in general this isn’t trivial. However, good bounds are available for all Jacobi polynomials, see Section 3.

“Even without this stumbling block, generating the N-sized sample for dimension d=N (why d=N, I wonder?)”
This is a misunderstanding: we do not say that d=N in any sense. We only say that sampling from a DPP using the algorithm of [Hough et al] requires the same number of operations as orthonormalizing N vectors of dimension N, hence the cubic cost.

1. “how does it relate to quasi-Monte Carlo?”
So far, the connection to QMC is only intuitive: both rely on well-spaced nodes, but using different mathematical tools.

2. “the marginals of the N-th order determinantal process are far from uniform (see Fig. 1), and seemingly concentrated on the boundaries”
This phenomenon is due to orthogonal polynomials. We are investigating more general constructions that give more flexibility.

3. “Is the variance of the resulting estimator (2.11) always finite?”
Yes. For instance, this follows from the inequality below (5.56) since ƒ(x)/K(x,x) is Lipschitz.

4. and 5. We are investigating concentration inequalities to answer these points.

6. “probabilistic numerics produce an epistemic assessment of uncertainty, contrary to the current proposal.”
A partial answer may be our Remark 2.12. You can interpret DPPs as putting a Gaussian process prior over ƒ and sequentially sampling from the posterior variance of the GP.

## Monte Carlo with determinantal processes

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2016 by xi'an

Rémi Bardenet and Adrien Hardy have arXived this paper a few months ago but I was a bit daunted by the sheer size of the paper, until I found the perfect opportunity last week..! The approach relates to probabilistic numerics as well as Monte Carlo, in that it can be seen as a stochastic version of Gaussian quadrature. The authors mention in the early pages a striking and recent result by Delyon and Portier that using an importance weight where the sampling density is replaced with the leave-one-out kernel estimate produces faster convergence than the regular Monte Carlo √n! Which reminds me of quasi-Monte Carlo of course, discussed in the following section (§1.3), with the interesting [and new to me] comment that the theoretical rate (and thus the improvement) does not occur until the sample size N is exponential in the dimension. Bardenet and Hardy achieve similar super-efficient convergence by mixing quadrature with repulsive simulation. For almost every integrable function.

The fact that determinantal point processes (on the unit hypercube) and Gaussian quadrature methods are connected is not that surprising once one considers that such processes are associated with densities made of determinants, which matrices are kernel-based, K(x,y), with K expressed as a sum of orthogonal polynomials. An N-th order determinantal process in dimension d satisfies a generalised Central Limit Theorem in that the speed of convergence is

$\sqrt{N}^{(d-1)/d}$

which means faster than √N…  This is more surprising, of course, even though one has to examine the conditions Continue reading