Archive for conditioning

absurdly unbiased estimators

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on November 8, 2018 by xi'an

“…there are important classes of problems for which the mathematics forces the existence of such estimators.”

Recently I came through a short paper written by Erich Lehmann for The American Statistician, Estimation with Inadequate Information. He analyses the apparent absurdity of using unbiased estimators or even best unbiased estimators in settings like the Poisson P(λ) observation X producing the (unique) unbiased estimator of exp(-bλ) equal to

(1-b)^x

which is indeed absurd when b>1. My first reaction to this example is that the question of what is “best” for a single observation is not very meaningful and that adding n independent Poisson observations replaces b with b/n, which gets eventually less than one. But Lehmann argues that the paradox stems from a case of missing information, as for instance in the Poisson example where the above quantity is the probability P(T=0) that T=0, when T=X+Y, Y being another unobserved Poisson with parameter (b-1)λ. In a lot of such cases, there is no unbiased estimator at all. When there is any, it must take values outside the (0,1) range, thanks to a lemma shown by Lehmann that the conditional expectation of this estimator given T is either zero or one.

I find the short paper quite interesting in exposing some reasons why the estimators cannot find enough information within the data (often a single point) to achieve an efficient estimation of the targeted function of the parameter, even though the setting may appear rather artificial.

Bayesians conditioning on sets of measure zero

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , on September 25, 2018 by xi'an

Although I have already discussed this point repeatedly on this ‘Og, I found myself replying to [yet] another question on X validated about the apparent paradox of conditioning on a set of measure zero, as for instance when computing

P(X=.5 | |X|=.5)

which actually has nothing to do with Bayesian inference or Bayes’ Theorem, but is simply wondering about the definition of conditional probability distributions. The OP was correct in stating that

P(X=x | |X|=x)

was defined up to a set of measure zero. And even that

P(X=.5 | |X|=.5)

could be defined arbitrarily, prior to the observation of |X|. But once |X| is observed, say to take the value 0.5, there is a zero probability that this value belongs to the set of measure zero where one defined

P(X=x | |X|=x)

arbitrarily. A point that always proves delicate to explain in class…!

data augmentation with divergence

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , on November 18, 2015 by xi'an

Another (!) Cross Validated question that shed some light on the difficulties of explaining the convergence of MCMC algorithms. Or in understanding conditioning and hierarchical models. The author wanted to know why a data augmentation of his did not converge: In a simplified setting, given an observation y that he wrote as y=h(x,θ), he had built a Gibbs sampler by reconstructing x=g(y,θ) and simulating θ given x: at each iteration t,

  1. compute xt=g(y,θt-1)
  2. simulate θt~π(θ|xt)

and he attributed the lack of convergence to a possible difficulty with the Jacobian. My own interpretation of the issue was rather that condition on the unobserved x was not the same as conditioning on the observed y and hence that y was missing from step 2. And that the simulation of x is useless. Unless one uses it in an augmented scheme à la Xiao-Li… Nonetheless, I like the problem, if only because my very first reaction was to draw a hierarchical dependence graph and to conclude this should be correct, before checking on a toy example that it was not!

how individualistic should statistics be?

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2015 by xi'an

keep-stats-subjectiveKeli Liu and Xiao-Li Meng completed a paper on the very nature of inference, to appear in The Annual Review of Statistics and Its Application. This paper or chapter is addressing a fundamental (and foundational) question on drawing inference based a sample on a new observation. That is, in making prediction. To what extent should the characteristics of the sample used for that prediction resemble those of the future observation? In his 1921 book, A Treatise on Probability, Keynes thought this similarity (or individualisation) should be pushed to its extreme, which led him to somewhat conclude on the impossibility of statistics and never to return to the field again. Certainly missing the incoming possibility of comparing models and selecting variables. And not building so much on the “all models are wrong” tenet. On the contrary, classical statistics use the entire data available and the associated model to run the prediction, including Bayesian statistics, although it is less clear how to distinguish between data and control there. Liu & Meng debate about the possibility of creating controls from the data alone. Or “alone” as the model behind always plays a capital role.

“Bayes and Frequentism are two ends of the same spectrum—a spectrum defined in terms of relevance and robustness. The nominal contrast between them (…) is a red herring.”

viemortrerbThe paper makes for an exhilarating if definitely challenging read. With a highly witty writing style. If only because the perspective is unusual, to say the least!, and requires constant mental contortions to frame the assertions into more traditional terms.  For instance, I first thought that Bayesian procedures were in agreement with the ultimate conditioning approach, since it conditions on the observables and nothing else (except for the model!). Upon reflection, I am not so convinced that there is such a difference with the frequentist approach in the (specific) sense that they both take advantage of the entire dataset. Either from the predictive or from the plug-in distribution. It all boils down to how one defines “control”.

“Probability and randomness, so tightly yoked in our minds, are in fact distinct concepts (…) at the end of the day, probability is essentially a tool for bookkeeping, just like the abacus.”

Some sentences from the paper made me think of ABC, even though I am not trying to bring everything back to ABC!, as drawing controls is the nature of the ABC game. ABC draws samples or control from the prior predictive and only keeps those for which the relevant aspects (or the summary statistics) agree with those of the observed data. Which opens similar questions about the validity and precision of the resulting inference, as well as the loss of information due to the projection over the summary statistics. While ABC is not mentioned in the paper, it can be used as a benchmark to walk through it.

“In the words of Jack Kiefer, we need to distinguish those problems with `luck data’ from those with `unlucky data’.”

keep-calm-and-condi-tionI liked very much recalling discussions we had with George Casella and Costas Goutis in Cornell about frequentist conditional inference, with the memory of Jack Kiefer still lingering around. However, I am not so excited about the processing of models here since, from what I understand in the paper (!), the probabilistic model behind the statistical analysis must be used to some extent in producing the control case and thus cannot be truly assessed with a critical eye. For instance, of which use is the mean square error when the model behind is unable to produce the observed data? In particular, the variability of this mean squared error is directly driven by this model. Similarly the notion of ancillaries is completely model-dependent. In the classification diagrams opposing robustness to relevance, all methods included therein are parametric. While non-parametric types of inference could provide a reference or a calibration ruler, at the very least.

Also, by continuously and maybe a wee bit heavily referring to the doctor-and-patient analogy, the paper is somewhat confusing as to which parts are analogy and which parts are methodology and to which type of statistical problem is covered by the discussion (sometimes it feels like all problems and sometimes like medical trials).

“The need to deliver individualized assessments of uncertainty are more pressing than ever.”

 A final question leads us to an infinite regress: if the statistician needs to turn to individualized inference, at which level of individuality should the statistician be assessed? And who is going to provide the controls then? In any case, this challenging paper is definitely worth reading by (only mature?) statisticians to ponder about the nature of the game!

about the strong likelihood principle

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on November 13, 2014 by xi'an

Deborah Mayo arXived a Statistical Science paper a few days ago, along with discussions by Jan Bjørnstad, Phil Dawid, Don Fraser, Michael Evans, Jan Hanning, R. Martin and C. Liu. I am very glad that this discussion paper came out and that it came out in Statistical Science, although I am rather surprised to find no discussion by Jim Berger or Robert Wolpert, and even though I still cannot entirely follow the deductive argument in the rejection of Birnbaum’s proof, just as in the earlier version in Error & Inference.  But I somehow do not feel like going again into a new debate about this critique of Birnbaum’s derivation. (Even though statements like the fact that the SLP “would preclude the use of sampling distributions” (p.227) would call for contradiction.)

“It is the imprecision in Birnbaum’s formulation that leads to a faulty impression of exactly what  is proved.” M. Evans

Indeed, at this stage, I fear that [for me] a more relevant issue is whether or not the debate does matter… At a logical cum foundational [and maybe cum historical] level, it makes perfect sense to uncover if and which if any of the myriad of Birnbaum’s likelihood Principles holds. [Although trying to uncover Birnbaum’s motives and positions over time may not be so relevant.] I think the paper and the discussions acknowledge that some version of the weak conditionality Principle does not imply some version of the strong likelihood Principle. With other logical implications remaining true. At a methodological level, I am less much less sure it matters. Each time I taught this notion, I got blank stares and incomprehension from my students, to the point I have now stopped altogether teaching the likelihood Principle in class. And most of my co-authors do not seem to care very much about it. At a purely mathematical level, I wonder if there even is ground for a debate since the notions involved can be defined in various imprecise ways, as pointed out by Michael Evans above and in his discussion. At a statistical level, sufficiency eventually is a strange notion in that it seems to make plenty of sense until one realises there is no interesting sufficiency outside exponential families. Just as there are very few parameter transforms for which unbiased estimators can be found. So I also spend very little time teaching and even less worrying about sufficiency. (As it happens, I taught the notion this morning!) At another and presumably more significant statistical level, what matters is information, e.g., conditioning means adding information (i.e., about which experiment has been used). While complex settings may prohibit the use of the entire information provided by the data, at a formal level there is no argument for not using the entire information, i.e. conditioning upon the entire data. (At a computational level, this is no longer true, witness ABC and similar limited information techniques. By the way, ABC demonstrates if needed why sampling distributions matter so much to Bayesian analysis.)

“Non-subjective Bayesians who (…) have to live with some violations of the likelihood principle (…) since their prior probability distributions are influenced by the sampling distribution.” D. Mayo (p.229)

In the end, the fact that the prior may depend on the form of the sampling distribution and hence does violate the likelihood Principle does not worry me so much. In most models I consider, the parameters are endogenous to those sampling distributions and do not live an ethereal existence independently from the model: they are substantiated and calibrated by the model itself, which makes the discussion about the LP rather vacuous. See, e.g., the coefficients of a linear model. In complex models, or in large datasets, it is even impossible to handle the whole data or the whole model and proxies have to be used instead, making worries about the structure of the (original) likelihood vacuous. I think we have now reached a stage of statistical inference where models are no longer accepted as ideal truth and where approximation is the hard reality, imposed by the massive amounts of data relentlessly calling for immediate processing. Hence, where the self-validation or invalidation of such approximations in terms of predictive performances is the relevant issue. Provided we can at all face the challenge…

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