Archive for cross validated

maximum of a Dirichlet vector

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on September 26, 2016 by xi'an

An intriguing question on Stack Exchange this weekend, about the distribution of max{p¹,p²,…}the maximum component of a Dirichlet vector Dir(a¹,a²,…) with arbitrary hyper-parameters. Writing the density of this random variable is feasible, using its connection with a Gamma vector, but I could not find a closed-form expression. If there is such an expression, it may follow from the many properties of the Dirichlet distribution and I’d be interested in learning about it. (Very nice stamp, by the way! I wonder if the original formula was made with LaTeX…)

another wrong entry

Posted in Books, Kids, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on June 27, 2016 by xi'an

Quite a coincidence! I just came across another bug in Lynch’s (2007) book, Introduction to Applied Bayesian Statistics and Estimation for Social Scientists. Already discussed here and on X validated. While working with one participant to the post-ISBA softshop, we were looking for efficient approaches to simulating correlation matrices and came [by Google] across the above R code associated with a 3×3 correlation matrix, which misses the additional constraint that the determinant must be positive. As shown e.g. by the example

> eigen(matrix(c(1,-.8,.7,-.8,1,.6,.7,.6,1),ncol=3))
[1] 1.8169834 1.5861960 -0.4031794

having all correlations between -1 and 1 is not enough. Just. Not. Enough.

exam question

Posted in Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2016 by xi'an

exo2A question for my third year statistics exam that I borrowed from Cross Validated: no student even attempted to solve this question…!

And another one borrowed from the highly popular post on the random variable [almost] always smaller than its mean!

the random variable that was always less than its mean…

Posted in Books, Kids, R, Statistics with tags , , , , , on May 30, 2016 by xi'an

Although this is far from a paradox when realising why the phenomenon occurs, it took me a few lines to understand why the empirical average of a log-normal sample is apparently a biased estimator of its mean. And why conversely the biased plug-in estimator does not appear to present a bias. To illustrate this “paradox” consider the picture below which compares both estimators of the mean of a log-normal LN(0,σ²) distribution as σ² increases: blue stands for the empirical mean, while gold corresponds to the plug-in estimator exp(σ²/2) when σ² is estimated from the log-sample, as in a normal sample. (The sample is of size 10⁶.) The gold sequence remains around one, while the blue one drifts away towards zero…

The question came on X validated and my first reaction was to doubt an implementation which outcome was so counter-intuitive. But then I thought further about the representation of a log-normal variate as exp(σξ) when ξ is a standard Normal variate. When σ grows large enough, it is near impossible for σξ to be larger than σ². More precisely,


which can be arbitrarily small.

a Bernoulli factory of sorts?

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics with tags , , , , , on May 10, 2016 by xi'an

crane on Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour, Australia, July 15, 2012A nice question was posted on X validated as to figure out a way to simulate a Bernoulli B(q) variate when using only a Bernoulli B(p) generator. With the additional question of handling the special case q=a/b, a rational probability. This is not exactly a Bernoulli factory problem in that q does not write as f(p), but still a neat challenge. My solution would have been similar to the one posted by William Huber, namely to simulate a sequence of B(p) or B(1-p) towards zooming on q until the simulation of the underlying uniforms U allows us to conclude at the position of U wrt q. For instance, if p>q and X~B(p) is equal to zero, the underlying uniform is more than p, hence more than q, leading to returning zero for the B(q) generation. Else, a second B(p) or B(1-p) generation means breaking the interval (0,p) into two parts, one of which allows for stopping the generation, and so on. The solution posted by William Huber contains an R code that could be easily improved by choosing for each interval between p and (1-p) towards the maximal probability of stopping. I still wonder at the ultimate optimal solution that would minimise the (average or median) number of calls to the Bernoulli(p) generator.

an integer programming riddle

Posted in Books, Kids, R with tags , , , , on April 21, 2016 by xi'an

A puzzle on The Riddler this week that ends up as a standard integer programming problem. Removing the little story around the question, it boils down to optimise


under the constraints

400a+400b+150c+50d≤1000, b≤a, a≤1, c≤8, d≤4,

and (a,b,c,d) all non-negative integers. My first attempt was a brute force R code since there are only 3 x 9 x 5 = 135 cases:


for (a in 0:1)
for (b in 0:a)
for (k in 0:8)
for (d in 0:4){
  if (max(cost)<=0){ gain=f.obj%*%c(a,b,k,d)
if (gain>sol){

which returns the value:

> sol
[1,]  425
> argu
[1] 1 0 3 3

This is confirmed by a call to an integer programming code like lpSolve:

> lp("max",f.obj,f.con,f.dir,f.rhs,
Success: the objective function is 425
> lp("max",f.obj,f.con,f.dir,f.rhs,$sol
[1] 1 0 3 3

which provides the same solution.

slice sampling revisited

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2016 by xi'an

Figure 1 (c.) Neal, 2003Thanks to an X validated question, I re-read Radford Neal’s 2003 Slice sampling paper. Which is an Annals of Statistics discussion paper, and rightly so. While I was involved in the editorial processing of this massive paper (!), I had only vague memories left about it. Slice sampling has this appealing feature of being the equivalent of random walk Metropolis-Hastings for Gibbs sampling, without the drawback of setting a scale for the moves.

“These slice sampling methods can adaptively change the scale of changes made, which makes them easier to tune than Metropolis methods and also avoids problems that arise when the appropriate scale of changes varies over the distribution  (…) Slice sampling methods that improve sampling by suppressing random walks can also be constructed.” (p.706)

One major theme in the paper is fighting random walk behaviour, of which Radford is a strong proponent. Even at the present time, I am a bit surprised by this feature as component-wise slice sampling is exhibiting clear features of a random walk, exploring the subgraph of the target by random vertical and horizontal moves. Hence facing the potential drawback of backtracking to previously visited places.

“A Markov chain consisting solely of overrelaxed updates might not be ergodic.” (p.729)

Overrelaxation is presented as a mean to avoid the random walk behaviour by removing rejections. The proposal is actually deterministic projecting the current value to the “other side” of the approximate slice. If it stays within the slice it is accepted. This “reflection principle” [in that it takes the symmetric wrt the centre of the slice] is also connected with antithetic sampling in that it induces rather negative correlation between the successive simulations. The last methodological section covers reflective slice sampling, which appears as a slice version of Hamiltonian Monte Carlo (HMC). Given the difficulty in implementing exact HMC (reflected in the later literature), it is no wonder that Radford proposes an approximation scheme that is valid if somewhat involved.

“We can show invariance of this distribution by showing (…) detailed balance, which for a uniform distribution reduces to showing that the probability density for x¹ to be selected as the next state, given that the current state is x0, is the same as the probability density for x⁰ to be the next state, given that x¹ is the current state, for any states x⁰ and x¹ within [the slice] S.” (p.718)

In direct connection with the X validated question there is a whole section of the paper on implementing single-variable slice sampling that I had completely forgotten, with a collection of practical implementations when the slice

S={x; u < f(x) }

cannot be computed in an exact manner. Like the “stepping out” procedure. The resulting set (interval) where the uniform simulation in x takes place may well miss some connected component(s) of the slice. This quote may sound like a strange argument in that the move may well leave a part of the slice off and still satisfy this condition. Not really since it states that it must hold for any pair of states within S… The very positive side of this section is to allow for slice sampling in cases where the inversion of u < f(x) is intractable. Hence with a strong practical implication. The multivariate extension of the approximation procedure is more (potentially) fraught with danger in that it may fell victim to a curse of dimension, in that the box for the uniform simulation of x may be much too large when compared with the true slice (or slice of the slice). I had more of a memory of the “trail of crumbs” idea, mostly because of the name I am afraid!, which links with delayed rejection, as indicated in the paper, but seems awfully delicate to calibrate.