Archive for conjugate priors

Bayes Rules! [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, R, Running, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2022 by xi'an

Bayes Rules! is a new introductory textbook on Applied Bayesian Model(l)ing, written by Alicia Johnson (Macalester College), Miles Ott (Johnson & Johnson), and Mine Dogucu (University of California Irvine). Textbook sent to me by CRC Press for review. It is available (free) online as a website and has a github site, as well as a bayesrule R package. (Which reminds me that both our own book R packages, bayess and mcsm, have gone obsolete on CRAN! And that I should find time to figure out the issue for an upgrading…)

As far as I can tell [from abroad and from only teaching students with a math background], Bayes Rules! seems to be catering to early (US) undergraduate students with very little exposure to mathematical statistics or probability, as it introduces basic probability notions like pmf, joint distribution, and Bayes’ theorem (as well as Greek letters!) and shies away from integration or algebra (a covariance matrix occurs on page 437 with a lot . For instance, the Normal-Normal conjugacy derivation is considered a “mouthful” (page 113). The exposition is somewhat stretched along the 500⁺ pages as a result, imho, which is presumably a feature shared with most textbooks at this level, and, accordingly, the exercises and quizzes are more about intuition and reproducing the contents of the chapter than technical. In fact, I did not spot there a mention of sufficiency, consistency, posterior concentration (almost made on page 113), improper priors, ergodicity, irreducibility, &tc., while other notions are not precisely defined, like ESS, weakly informative (page 234) or vague priors (page 77), prior information—which makes the negative answer to the quiz “All priors are informative”  (page 90) rather confusing—, R-hat, density plot, scaled likelihood, and more.

As an alternative to “technical derivations” Bayes Rules! centres on intuition and simulation (yay!) via its bayesrule R package. Itself relying on rstan. Learning from example (as R code is always provided), the book proceeds through conjugate priors, MCMC (Metropolis-Hasting) methods, regression models, and hierarchical regression models. Quite impressive given the limited prerequisites set by the authors. (I appreciated the representations of the prior-likelihood-posterior, especially in the sequential case.)

Regarding the “hot tip” (page 108) that the posterior mean always stands between the prior mean and the data mean, this should be made conditional on a conjugate setting and a mean parameterisation. Defining MCMC as a method that produces a sequence of realisations that are not from the target makes a point, except of course that there are settings where the realisations are from the target, for instance after a renewal event. Tuning MCMC should remain a partial mystery to readers after reading Chapter 7 as the Goldilocks principle is quite vague. Similarly, the derivation of the hyperparameters in a novel setting (not covered by the book) should prove a challenge, even though the readers are encouraged to “go forth and do some Bayes things” (page 509).

While Bayes factors are supported for some hypothesis testing (with no point null), model comparison follows more exploratory methods like X validation and expected log-predictive comparison.

The examples and exercises are diverse (if mostly US centric), modern (including cultural references that completely escape me), and often reflect on the authors’ societal concerns. In particular, their concern about a fair use of the inferred models is preminent, even though a quantitative assessment of the degree of fairness would require a much more advanced perspective than the book allows… (In that respect, Exercise 18.2 and the following ones are about book banning (in the US). Given the progressive tone of the book, and the recent ban of math textbooks in the US, I wonder if some conservative boards would consider banning it!) Concerning the Himalaya submitting running example (Chapters 18 & 19), where the probability to summit is conditional on the age of the climber and the use of additional oxygen, I am somewhat surprised that the altitude of the targeted peak is not included as a covariate. For instance, Ama Dablam (6848 m) is compared with Annapurna I (8091 m), which has the highest fatality-to-summit ratio (38%) of all. This should matter more than age: the Aosta guide Abele Blanc climbed Annapurna without oxygen at age 57! More to the point, the (practical) detailed examples do not bring unexpected conclusions, as for instance the fact that runners [thrice alas!] tend to slow down with age.

A geographical comment: Uluru (page 267) is not a city!, but an impressive sandstone monolith in the heart of Australia, a 5 hours drive away from Alice Springs. And historical mentions: Alan Turing (page 10) and the team at Bletchley Park indeed used Bayes factors (and sequential analysis) in cracking the Enigma, but this remained classified information for quite a while. Arianna Rosenbluth (page 10, but missing on page 165) was indeed a major contributor to Metropolis et al.  (1953, not cited), but would not qualify as a Bayesian statistician as the goal of their algorithm was a characterisation of the Boltzman (or Gibbs) distribution, not statistical inference. And David Blackwell’s (page 10) Basic Statistics is possibly the earliest instance of an introductory Bayesian and decision-theory textbook, but it never mentions Bayes or Bayesianism.

[Disclaimer about potential self-plagiarism: this post or an edited version will eventually appear in my Book Review section in CHANCE.]

distributed evidence

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2021 by xi'an

Alexander Buchholz (who did his PhD at CREST with Nicolas Chopin), Daniel Ahfock, and my friend Sylvia Richardson published a great paper on the distributed computation of Bayesian evidence in Bayesian Analysis. The setting is one of distributed data from several sources with no communication between them, which relates to consensus Monte Carlo even though model choice has not been particularly studied from that perspective. The authors operate under the assumption of conditionally conjugate models, i.e., the existence of a data augmentation scheme into an exponential family so that conjugate priors can be used. For a division of the data into S blocks, the fundamental identity in the paper is

p(y) = \alpha^S \prod_{s=1}^S \tilde p(y_s) \int \prod_{s=1}^S \tilde p(\theta|y_s)\,\text d\theta

where α is the normalising constant of the sub-prior exp{log[p(θ)]/S} and the other terms are associated with this prior. Under the conditionally conjugate assumption, the integral can be approximated based on the latent variables. Most interestingly, the associated variance is directly connected with the variance of

p(z_{1:S}|y)\Big/\prod_{s=1}^S \tilde p(z_s|y_s)

under the joint:

“The variance of the ratio measures the quality of the product of the conditional sub-posterior as an importance sample proposal distribution.”

Assuming this variance is finite (which is likely). An approximate alternative is proposed, namely to replace the exact sub-posterior with a Normal distribution, as in consensus Monte Carlo, which should obviously require some consideration as to which parameterisation of the model produces the “most normal” (or the least abnormal!) posterior. And ensures a finite variance in the importance sampling approximation (as ensured by the strong bounds in Proposition 5). A problem shared by the bridgesampling package.

“…if the error that comes from MCMC sampling is relatively small and that the shard sizes are large enough so that the quality of the subposterior normal approximation is reasonable, our suggested approach will result in good approximations of the full data set marginal likelihood.”

The resulting approximation can also be handy in conjunction with reversible jump MCMC, in the sense that RJMCMC algorithms can be run in parallel on different chunks or shards of the entire dataset. Although the computing gain may be reduced by the need for separate approximations.

conjugate priors and sufficient statistics

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , on March 29, 2021 by xi'an

An X validated question rekindled my interest in the connection between sufficiency and conjugacy, by asking whether or not there was an equivalence between the existence of a (finite dimension) conjugate family of priors and the existence of a fixed (in n, the sample size) dimension sufficient statistic. Outside exponential families, meaning that the support of the sampling distribution need vary with the parameter.

While the existence of a sufficient statistic T of fixed dimension d whatever the (large enough) sample size n seems to clearly imply the existence of a (finite dimension) conjugate family of priors, or rather of a family associated with each possible dominating (prior) measure,

\mathfrak F=\{ \tilde \pi(\theta)\propto \tilde {f_n}(t_n(x_{1:n})|\theta) \pi_0(\theta)\,;\ n\in \mathbb N, x_{1:n}\in\mathfrak X^n\}

the reverse statement is a wee bit more delicate to prove, due to the varying supports of the sampling or prior distributions. Unless some conjugate prior in the assumed family has an unrestricted support, the argument seems to limit sufficiency to a particular subset of the parameter set. I think that the result remains correct in general but could not rigorously wrap up the proof

conjugate of a binomial

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , on March 25, 2021 by xi'an

latent variables for a hierarchical Poisson model

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2021 by xi'an

Answering a question on X validated about a rather standard hierarchical Poisson model, and its posterior Gibbs simulation, where observations are (d and w being a document and a word index, resp.)

N_{w,d}\sim\mathcal P(\textstyle\sum_{1\le k\le K} \pi_{k,d}\varphi_{k,w})\qquad(1)

I found myself dragged into an extended discussion on the validation of creating independent Poisson latent variables

N_{k,w,d}\sim\mathcal P(\pi_{k,d}\varphi_{k,w})\qquad(2)

since observing their sum in (1) was preventing the latent variables (2) from being independent. And then found out that the originator of the question had asked on X validated an unanswered and much more detailed question in 2016, even though the notations differ. The question does contain the solution I proposed above, including the Multinomial distribution on the Poisson latent variables given their sum (and the true parameters). As it should be since the derivation was done in a linked 2014 paper by Gopalan, Hofman, and Blei, later published in the Proceedings of the 31st Conference on Uncertainty in Artificial Intelligence (UAI). I am thus bemused at the question resurfacing five years later in a much simplified version, but still exhibiting the same difficulty with the conditioning principles…

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