Archive for discussion paper

deduplication and population size estimation [discussion]

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , on April 23, 2020 by xi'an

[Here is my discussion on the paper “A Unified Framework for De-Duplication and Population Size Estimation” by [my friends] Andrea Tancredi, Rebecca Steorts, and Brunero Liseo, to appear on the June 2020 issue of Bayesian Analysis. The deadline is 24 April. Discussions are to be submitted to BA as regular submissions.]

Congratulations to the authors, for this paper that expand the modelling of populations investigated by faulty surveys, a poor quality feature that applies to extreme cases like Syria casualties. And possibly COVID-19 victims.

The model considered in this paper, as given by (2.1), is a latent variable model which appears as hyper-parameterised in the sense it involves a large number of parameters and latent variables. First, this means it is essentially intractable outside a Bayesian resolution. Second, within the Bayesian perspective, it calls for identifiability and consistency questions, namely which fraction of the unknown entities is identifiable and which fraction can be consistently estimated, eventually severing the dependence on the prior modelling. Personal experiences with capture-recapture models on social data like drug addict populations showed me that prior choices often significantly drive posterior inference on the population size. Here, it seems that the generative distortion mechanism between registry of individuals and actual records is paramount.

“We now investigate an alternative aspect of the uniform prior distribution of λ given N.”

Since the practical application stressed in the title, namely some of civil casualties in Syria, interrogations take a more topical flavour as one wonders at the connection between the model and the actual data, between the prior modelling and the available prior information. It is however not the strategy adopted in the paper, which instead proposes a generic prior modelling that could be deemed to be non-informative. I find the property that conditioning on the list sizes eliminates the capture probabilities and the duplication rates quite amazing, reminding me indeed of similar properties for conjugate mixtures, although we found the property hard to exploit from a computational viewpoint. And that the hit-miss model provides computationally tractable marginal distributions for the cluster observations.

“Several records of the VDC data set represent unidentified victims and report only the date of death or do not have the first name and report only the relationship with the head of the family.”

This non-informative choice is however quite informative in the misreporting mechanism and does not address the issue that it presumably is misspecified. It indeed makes the assumption that individual label and type of record are jointly enough to explain the probability of misreporting the exact record. In practical cases, it seems more realistic that the probability to appear in a list depends on the characteristics of an individual, hence far from being uniform as well as independent from one list to the next. The same applies to the probability of being misreported. The alternative to the uniform allocation of individuals to lists found in (3.3) remains neutral to the reasons why (some) individuals are missing from (some) lists. No informative input is indeed made here on how duplicates could appear or on how errors are made in registering individuals. Furthermore, given the high variability observed in inferring the number of actual deaths covered by the collection of the two lists, it would have been of interest to include a model comparison assessment, especially when contemplating the clash between the four posteriors in Figure 4.

The implementation of a manageable Gibbs sampler in such a convoluted model is quite impressive and one would welcome further comments from the authors on its convergence properties, since it is facing a large dimensional space. Are there theoretical or numerical irreducibility issues for instance, created by the discrete nature of some latent variables as in mixture models?

deduplication and population size estimation [discussion opened]

Posted in Books, pictures, Running, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , on March 27, 2020 by xi'an

A call (worth disseminating) for discussions on the paper “A Unified Framework for De-Duplication and Population Size Estimation” by [my friends] Andrea Tancredi, Rebecca Steorts, and Brunero Liseo, to appear on the June 2020 issue of Bayesian Analysis. The deadline is 24 April.

Data de-duplication is the process of detecting records in one or more datasets which refer to the same entity. In this paper we tackle the de-duplication process via a latent entity model, where the observed data are perturbed versions of a set of key variables drawn from a finite population of N different entities. The main novelty of our approach is to consider the population size N as an unknown model parameter. As a result, a salient feature of the proposed method is the capability of the model to account for the de-duplication uncertainty in the population size estimation. As by-products of our approach we illustrate the relationships between de-duplication problems and capture-recapture models and we obtain a more adequate prior distribution on the linkage structure. Moreover we propose a novel simulation algorithm for the posterior distribution of the matching configuration based on the marginalization of the key variables at population level. We apply our method to two synthetic data sets comprising German names. In addition we illustrate a real data application, where we match records from two lists which report information about people killed in the recent Syrian conflict.

Colin Blyth (1922-2019)

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2020 by xi'an

While reading the IMS Bulletin (of March 2020), I found out that Canadian statistician Colin Blyth had died last summer. While we had never met in person, I remember his very distinctive and elegant handwriting in a few letters he sent me, including the above I have kept (along with an handwritten letter from Lucien Le Cam!). It contains suggestions about revising our Is Pitman nearness a reasonable criterion?, written with Gene Hwang and William Strawderman and which took three years to publish as it was deemed somewhat controversial. It actually appeared in JASA with discussions from Malay Ghosh, John Keating and Pranab K Sen, Shyamal Das Peddada, C. R. Rao, George Casella and Martin T. Wells, and Colin R. Blyth (with a much stronger wording than in the above letter!, like “What can be said but “It isn’t I, it’s you that are crazy?”). While I had used some of his admissibility results, including the admissibility of the Normal sample average in dimension one, e.g. in my book, I had not realised at the time that Blyth was (a) the first student of Erich Lehmann (b) the originator of [the name] Simpson’s paradox, (c) the scribe for Lehmann’s notes that would eventually lead to Testing Statistical Hypotheses and Theory of Point Estimation, later revised with George Casella. And (d) a keen bagpipe player and scholar.

logic (not logistic!) regression

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2020 by xi'an

A Bayesian Analysis paper by Aliaksandr Hubin, Geir Storvik, and Florian Frommlet on Bayesian logic regression was open for discussion. Here are some hasty notes I made during our group discussion in Paris Dauphine (and later turned into a discussion submitted to Bayesian Analysis):

“Originally logic regression was introduced together with likelihood based model selection, where simulated annealing served as a strategy to obtain one “best” model.”

Indeed, logic regression is not to be confused with logistic regression! Rejection of a true model in Bayesian model choice leads to Bayesian model choice and… apparently to Bayesian logic regression. The central object of interest is a generalised linear model based on a vector of binary covariates and using some if not all possible logical combinations (trees) of said covariates (leaves). The GLM is further using rather standard indicators to signify whether or not some trees are included in the regression (and hence the model). The prior modelling on the model indices sounds rather simple (simplistic?!) in that it is only function of the number of active trees, leading to an automated penalisation of larger trees and not accounting for a possible specificity of some covariates. For instance when dealing with imbalanced covariates (much more 1 than 0, say).

A first question is thus how much of a novel model this is when compared with say an analysis of variance since all covariates are dummy variables. Culling the number of trees away from the exponential of exponential number of possible covariates remains obscure but, without it, the model is nothing but variable selection in GLMs, except for “enjoying” a massive number of variables. Note that there could be a connection with variable length Markov chain models but it is not exploited there.

“…using Jeffrey’s prior for model selection has been widely criticized for not being consistent once the true model coincides with the null model.”

A second point that strongly puzzles me in the paper is its loose handling of improper priors. It is well-known that improper priors are at worst fishy in model choice settings and at best avoided altogether, to wit the Lindley-Jeffreys paradox and friends. Not only does the paper adopts the notion of a same, improper, prior on the GLM scale parameter, which is a position adopted in some of the Bayesian literature, but it also seems to be using an improper prior on each set of parameters (further undifferentiated between models). Because the priors operate on different (sub)sets of parameters, I think this jeopardises the later discourse on the posterior probabilities of the different models since they are not meaningful from a probabilistic viewpoint, with no joint distribution as a reference, neither marginal density. In some cases, p(y|M) may become infinite. Referring to a “simple Jeffrey’s” prior in this setting is therefore anything but simple as Jeffreys (1939) himself shied away from using improper priors on the parameter of interest. I find it surprising that this fundamental and well-known difficulty with improper priors in hypothesis testing is not even alluded to in the paper. Its core setting thus seems to be flawed. Now, the numerical comparison between Jeffrey’s [sic] prior and a regular g-prior exhibits close proximity and I thus wonder at the reason. Could it be that the culling and selection processes end up having the same number of variables and thus eliminate the impact of the prior? Or is it due to the recourse to a Laplace approximation of the marginal likelihood that completely escapes the lack of definition of the said marginal? Computing the normalising constant and repeating this computation while the algorithm is running ignores the central issue.

“…hereby, all states, including all possible models of maximum sized, will eventually be visited.”

Further, I found some confusion between principles and numerics. And as usual bemoan the acronym inflation with the appearance of a GMJMCMC! Where G stands for genetic (algorithm), MJ for mode jumping, and MCMC for…, well no surprise there! I was not aware of the mode jumping algorithm of Hubin and Storvik (2018), so cannot comment on the very starting point of the paper. A fundamental issue with Markov chains on discrete spaces is that the notion of neighbourhood becomes quite fishy and is highly dependent on the nature of the covariates. And the Markovian aspects are unclear because of the self-avoiding aspect of the algorithm. The novel algorithm is intricate and as such seems to require a superlative amount of calibration. Are all modes truly visited, really? (What are memetic algorithms?!)

unbiased MCMC discussed at the RSS tomorrow night

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2019 by xi'an

The paper ‘Unbiased Markov chain Monte Carlo methods with couplings’ by Pierre Jacob et al. will be discussed (or Read) tomorrow at the Royal Statistical Society, 12 Errol Street, London, tomorrow night, Wed 11 December, at 5pm London time. With a pre-discussion session at 3pm, involving Chris Sherlock and Pierre Jacob, and chaired by Ioanna Manolopoulou. While I will alas miss this opportunity, due to my trip to Vancouver over the weekend, it is great that that the young tradition of pre-discussion sessions has been rekindled as it helps put the paper into perspective for a wider audience and thus makes the more formal Read Paper session more profitable. As we discussed the paper in Paris Dauphine with our graduate students a few weeks ago, we will for certain send one or several written discussions to Series B!

unbiased Hamiltonian Monte Carlo with couplings

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on October 25, 2019 by xi'an

In the June issue of Biometrika, which had been sitting for a few weeks on my desk under my teapot!, Jeremy Heng and Pierre Jacob published a paper on unbiased estimators for Hamiltonian Monte Carlo using couplings. (Disclaimer: I was not involved with the review or editing of this paper.) Which extends to HMC environments the earlier paper of Pierre Jacob, John O’Leary and Yves Atchadé, to be discussed soon at the Royal Statistical Society. The fundamentals are the same, namely that an unbiased estimator can be produced from a converging sequence of estimators and that it can be de facto computed if two Markov chains with the same marginal can be coupled. The issue with Hamiltonians is to figure out how to couple their dynamics. In the Gaussian case, it is relatively easy to see that two chains with the same initial momentum meet periodically. In general, there is contraction within a compact set (Lemma 1). The coupling extends to a time discretisation of the Hamiltonian flow by a leap-frog integrator, still using the same momentum. Which roughly amounts in using the same random numbers in both chains. When defining a relaxed meeting (!) where both chains are within δ of one another, the authors rely on a drift condition (8) that reminds me of the early days of MCMC convergence and seem to imply the existence of a small set “where the target distribution [density] is strongly log-concave”. And which makes me wonder if this small set could be used instead to create renewal events that would in turn ensure both stationarity and unbiasedness without the recourse to a second coupled chain. When compared on a Gaussian example with couplings on Metropolis-Hastings and MALA (Fig. 1), the coupled HMC sees hardly any impact of the dimension of the target (in the average coupling time), with a much lower value. However, I wonder at the relevance of the meeting time as an assessment of efficiency. In the sense that the coupling time is not a convergence time but reflects as well on the initial conditions. I acknowledge that this allows for an averaging over  parallel implementations but I remain puzzled by the statement that this leads to “estimators that are consistent in the limit of the number of replicates, rather than in the usual limit of the number of Markov chain iterations”, since a particularly poor initial distribution could on principle lead to a mode of the target being never explored or on the coupling time being ever so rarely too large for the computing abilities at hand.

latent nested nonparametric priors

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on September 23, 2019 by xi'an

A paper on an extended type of non-parametric priors by Camerlenghi et al. [all good friends!] is about to appear in Bayesian Analysis, with a discussion open for contributions (until October 15). While a fairly theoretical piece of work, it validates a Bayesian approach for non-parametric clustering of separate populations with, broadly speaking, common clusters. More formally, it constructs a new family of models that allows for a partial or complete equality between two probability measures, but does not force full identity when the associated samples do share some common observations. Indeed, the more traditional structures prohibit one or the other, from the Dirichlet process (DP) prohibiting two probability measure realisations from being equal or partly equal to some hierarchical DP (HDP) already allowing for common atoms across measure realisations, but prohibiting complete identity between two realised distributions, to nested DP offering one extra level of randomness, but with an infinity of DP realisations that prohibits common atomic support besides completely identical support (and hence distribution).

The current paper imagines two realisations of random measures written as a sum of a common random measure and of one of two separate almost independent random measures: (14) is the core formula of the paper that allows for partial or total equality. An extension to a setting larger than facing two samples seems complicated if only because of the number of common measures one has to introduce, from the totally common measure to measures that are only shared by a subset of the samples. Except in the simplified framework when a single and universally common measure is adopted (with enough justification). The randomness of the model is handled via different completely random measures that involved something like four degrees of hierarchy in the Bayesian model.

Since the example is somewhat central to the paper, the case of one or rather two two-component Normal mixtures with a common component (but with different mixture weights) is handled by the approach, although it seems that it was already covered by HDP. Having exactly the same term (i.e., with the very same weight) is not, but this may be less interesting in real life applications. Note that alternative & easily constructed & parametric constructs are already available in this specific case, involving a limited prior input and a lighter computational burden, although the  Gibbs sampler behind the model proves extremely simple on the paper. (One may wonder at the robustness of the sampler once the case of identical distributions is visited.)

Due to the combinatoric explosion associated with a higher number of observed samples, despite obvious practical situations,  one may wonder at any feasible (and possibly sequential) extension, that would further keep a coherence under marginalisation (in the number of samples). And also whether or not multiple testing could be coherently envisioned in this setting, for instance when handling all hospitals in the UK. Another consistency question covers the Bayes factor used to assess whether the two distributions behind the samples are or not identical. (One may wonder at the importance of the question, hopefully applied to more relevant dataset than the Iris data!)