weakly informative reparameterisations for location-scale mixtures

Posted in Books, pictures, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on January 19, 2017 by xi'an

We have been working towards a revision of our reparameterisation paper for quite a while now and too advantage of Kate Lee visiting Paris this fortnight to make a final round: we have now arXived (and submitted) the new version. The major change against the earlier version is the extension of the approach to a large class of models that include infinitely divisible distributions, compound Gaussian, Poisson, and exponential distributions, and completely monotonic densities. The concept remains identical: change the parameterisation of a mixture from a component-wise decomposition to a construct made of the first moment(s) of the distribution and of component-wise objects constrained by the moment equation(s). There is of course a bijection between both parameterisations, but the constraints appearing in the latter produce compact parameter spaces for which (different) uniform priors can be proposed. While the resulting posteriors are no longer conjugate, even conditional on the latent variables, standard Metropolis algorithms can be implemented to produce Monte Carlo approximations of these posteriors.

maximum likelihood on negative binomial

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

Estimating both parameters of a negative binomial distribution NB(N,p) by maximum likelihood sounds like an obvious exercise. But it is not because some samples lead to degenerate solutions, namely p=0 and N=∞… This occurs when the mean of the sample is larger than its empirical variance, s²>x̄, not an impossible instance: I discovered this when reading a Cross Validated question asking about the action to take in such a case. A first remark of interest is that this only happens when the negative binomial distribution is defined in terms of failures (since else the number of successes is bounded). A major difference I never realised till now, for estimating N is not a straightforward exercise. A second remark is that a negative binomial NB(N,p) is a Poisson compound of an LSD variate with parameter p, the Poisson being with parameter η=-N log(1-p). And the LSD being a power distribution pk/k rather than a psychedelic drug. Since this is not an easy framework, Adamidis (1999) introduces an extra auxiliary variable that is a truncated exponential on (0,1) with parameter -log(1-p). A very neat trick that removes the nasty normalising constant on the LSD variate.

“Convergence was achieved in all cases, even when the starting values were poor and this emphasizes the numerical stability of the EM algorithm.” K. Adamidis

Adamidis then constructs an EM algorithm on the completed set of auxiliary variables with a closed form update on both parameters. Unfortunately, the algorithm only works when s²>x̄. Otherwise, it gets stuck at the boundary p=0 and N=∞. I was hoping for a replica of the mixture case where local maxima are more interesting than the degenerate global maximum… (Of course, there is always the alternative of using a Bayesian noninformative approach.)

Judith Rousseau gets Bernoulli Society Ethel Newbold Prize

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2015 by xi'an

As announced at the 60th ISI World Meeting in Rio de Janeiro, my friend, co-author, and former PhD student Judith Rousseau got the first Ethel Newbold Prize! Congrats, Judith! And well-deserved! The prize is awarded by the Bernoulli Society on the following basis

The Ethel Newbold Prize is to be awarded biannually to an outstanding statistical scientist for a body of work that represents excellence in research in mathematical statistics, and/or excellence in research that links developments in a substantive field to new advances in statistics. In any year in which the award is due, the prize will not be awarded unless the set of all nominations includes candidates from both genders.

and is funded by Wiley. I support very much this (inclusive) approach of “recognizing the importance of women in statistics”, without creating a prize restricted to women nominees (and hence exclusive).  Thanks to the members of the Program Committee of the Bernoulli Society for setting that prize and to Nancy Reid in particular.

Ethel Newbold was a British statistician who worked during WWI in the Ministry of Munitions and then became a member of the newly created Medical Research Council, working on medical and industrial studies. She was the first woman to receive the Guy Medal in Silver in 1928. Just to stress that much remains to be done towards gender balance, the second and last woman to get a Guy Medal in Silver is Sylvia Richardson, in 2009… (In addition, Valerie Isham, Nicky Best, and Fiona Steele got a Guy Medal in Bronze, out of the 71 so far awarded, while no woman ever got a Guy Medal in Gold.) Funny occurrences of coincidence: Ethel May Newbold was educated at Tunbridge Wells, the place where Bayes was a minister, while Sylvia is now head of the Medical Research Council biostatistics unit in Cambridge.