**I**n an arXived preprint submitted to *Computational Statistics & Data Analysis*, Chan, Han, and Lim study alternatives to EM for latent class models. That is, mixtures of products of Multinomials. (First occurrence of an indicator function being called the “Iverson bracket function”!) The introduction is fairly extensive given this most studied model. The criticisms of EM laid by the authors are that (a) it does not produce an evaluation of the estimation error, which does not sound correct; (b) the convergence is slow, which is also rather misleading as my [low dimensional] experience with mixtures is that it gets very quickly and apparently linearly to the vicinity of one of the modes. The argument in favour of alternative non-linear optimisation approaches is that they can achieve quadratic convergence. One solution is a projected Quasi-Newton method, based on a quadratic approximation to the target. With some additional intricacies that make the claim of being “way easier than EM algorithm” somewhat specious. The second approach proposed in the paper is sequential quadratic programming, which incorporates the Lagrange multiplier in the target. While the different simulations in the paper show that EM may indeed call for a much larger number of iterations, the obtained likelihoods all are comparable.

## Archive for EM algorithm

## alternatives to EM

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags Computational Statistics and Data Analysis, EM algorithm, finite mixtures, Iverson bracket function, Lagrangian, latent class model, multinomial distribution, quasi-Newton resolution on January 30, 2019 by xi'an## interdependent Gibbs samplers

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags EM algorithm, Gibbs sampling, HMM, latent variable models, Monte Carlo Statistical Methods, SAME algorithm, simulated annealing on April 27, 2018 by xi'an**M**ark Kozdoba and Shie Mannor just arXived a paper on an approach to accelerate a Gibbs sampler. With title “interdependent Gibbs samplers“. In fact, it presents rather strong similarities with our SAME algorithm. More of the same, as Adam Johanssen (Warwick) entitled one of his papers! The paper indeed suggests multiplying replicas of latent variables (e.g., an hidden path for an HMM) in an artificial model. And as in our 2002 paper, with Arnaud Doucet and Simon Godsill, the focus here is on maximum likelihood estimation (of the genuine parameters, not of the latent variables). Along with argument that the resulting pseudo-posterior is akin to a posterior with a powered likelihood. And a link with the EM algorithm. And an HMM application.

“The generative model consist of simply sampling the parameters , and then sampling m independent copies of the paths”

If anything this proposal is less appealing than SAME because it aims directly at the powered likelihood, rather than utilising an annealed sequence of powers that allows for a primary exploration of the whole parameter space before entering the trapping vicinity of a mode. Which makes me fail to catch the argument from the authors that this improves Gibbs sampling, as a more acute mode has on the opposite the dangerous feature of preventing visits to other modes. Hence the relevance to resort to some form of annealing.

As already mused upon in earlier posts, I find it most amazing that this technique has been re-discovered so many times, both in statistics and in adjacent fields. The idea of powering the likelihood with independent copies of the latent variables is obviously natural (since a version pops up every other year, always under a different name), but earlier versions should eventually saturate the market!

## sliced Wasserstein estimation of mixtures

Posted in Books, pictures, R, Statistics with tags arXiv, EM algorithm, finite mixtures, label switching, log-likelihood, multimodality, Wasserstein distance on November 28, 2017 by xi'an**A** paper by Soheil Kolouri and co-authors was arXived last week about using Wasserstein distance for inference on multivariate Gaussian mixtures. The basic concept is that the parameter is estimated by minimising the p-Wasserstein distance to the empirical distribution, smoothed by a Normal kernel. As the general Wasserstein distance is quite costly to compute, the approach relies on a sliced version, which means computing the Wasserstein distance between one-dimensional projections of the distributions. Optimising over the directions is an additional computational constraint.

“To fit a finite GMM to the observed data, one is required to answer the following questions: 1) how to estimate the number of mixture components needed to represent the data, and 2) how to estimate the parameters of the mixture components.”

The paper contains a most puzzling comment opposing maximum likelihood estimation to minimum Wasserstein distance estimation on the basis that the later would not suffer from multimodality. This sounds incorrect as the multimodality of a mixture model (likelihood) stems from the lack of identifiability of the parameters. If all permutations of these parameters induce exactly the same distribution, they all stand at the same distance from the data distribution, whatever the distance is. Furthermore, the above tartan-like picture clashes with the representation of the log-likelihood of a Normal mixture, as exemplified by the picture below based on a 150 sample with means 0 and 2, same unit variance, and weights 0.3 and 0.7, which shows a smooth if bimodal structure:And for the same dataset, my attempt at producing a Wasserstein “energy landscape” does return a multimodal structure (this is the surface of minus the logarithm of the 2-Wasserstein distance):*“Jin et al. proved that with random initialization, the EM algorithm will converge to a bad critical point with high probability.”*

This statement is most curious in that the “probability” in the assessment must depend on the choice of the random initialisation, hence on a sort of prior distribution that is not explicited in the paper. Which remains blissfully unaware of Bayesian approaches.

Another [minor mode] puzzling statement is that the p-Wasserstein distance is defined on the space of probability measures with finite p-th moment, which does not make much sense when what matters is rather the finiteness of the expectation of the distance d(X,Y) raised to the power p. A lot of the maths details either do not make sense or seem superfluous.

## a well-hidden E step

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, R, Statistics with tags ABC, cross validated, EM algorithm, hidden Markov models, MCEM, MCMC, Monte Carlo approximations, R, simulation, summary statistics on February 3, 2017 by xi'an**A** recent question on X validated ended up being quite interesting! The model under consideration is made of parallel Markov chains on a finite state space, all with the same Markov transition matrix, **M**, which turns into a hidden Markov model when the only summary available is the number of chains in a given state at a given time. When writing down the EM algorithm, the E step involves the expected number of moves from a given state to a given state at a given time. The conditional distribution of those numbers of chains is a product of multinomials across times and starting states, with no Markov structure since the number of chains starting from a given state is known at each instant. Except that those multinomials are constrained by the number of “arrivals” in each state at the next instant and that this makes the computation of the expectation intractable, as far as I can see.

A solution by Monte Carlo EM means running the moves for each instant under the above constraints, which is thus a sort of multinomial distribution with fixed margins, enjoying a closed-form expression but for the normalising constant. The direct simulation soon gets too costly as the number of states increases and I thus considered a basic Metropolis move, using one margin (row or column) or the other as proposal, with the correction taken on another margin. This is very basic but apparently enough for the purpose of the exercise. If I find time in the coming days, I will try to look at the ABC resolution of this problem, a logical move when starting from non-sufficient statistics!

## empirical Bayes, reference priors, entropy & EM

Posted in Mountains, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags arXiv, Darjeeling, EM algorithm, empirical Bayes, I.J. Good, JASA, Kullback-Leibler divergence, MLE, non-parametrics, penalty, reparameterisation, Robbins-Monro algorithm on January 9, 2017 by xi'an**K**lebanov and co-authors from Berlin arXived this paper a few weeks ago and it took me a quiet evening in Darjeeling to read it. It starts with the premises that led Robbins to introduce empirical Bayes in 1956 (although the paper does not appear in the references), where repeated experiments with different parameters are run. Except that it turns non-parametric in estimating the prior. And to avoid resorting to the non-parametric MLE, which is the empirical distribution, it adds a smoothness penalty function to the picture. (**Warning:** I am not a big fan of non-parametric MLE!) The idea seems to have been Good’s, who acknowledged using the entropy as penalty is missing in terms of reparameterisation invariance. Hence the authors suggest instead to use as penalty function on the prior a joint relative entropy on both the parameter and the prior, which amounts to the average of the Kullback-Leibler divergence between the sampling distribution and the predictive based on the prior. Which is then independent of the parameterisation. And of the dominating measure. This is the only tangible connection with *reference priors* found in the paper.

The authors then introduce a non-parametric EM algorithm, where the unknown prior becomes the “parameter” and the M step means optimising an entropy in terms of this prior. With an infinite amount of data, the true prior (meaning the overall distribution of the genuine parameters in this repeated experiment framework) is a fixed point of the algorithm. However, it seems that the only way it can be implemented is via discretisation of the parameter space, which opens a whole Pandora box of issues, from discretisation size to dimensionality problems. And to motivating the approach by regularisation arguments, since the final product remains an atomic distribution.

While the alternative of estimating the marginal density of the data by kernels and then aiming at the closest entropy prior is discussed, I find it surprising that the paper does not consider the rather natural of setting a prior on the prior, e.g. via Dirichlet processes.

## warp-U bridge sampling

Posted in Books, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags bridge sampling, component of a mixture, EM algorithm, folded Markov chain, MCqMC 2016, Melbourne, Monash University, nested sampling, Stanford University, warped bridge sampling, Xiao-Li Meng on October 12, 2016 by xi'an*[I wrote this set of comments right after MCqMC 2016 on a preliminary version of the paper so mileage may vary in terms of the adequation to the current version!]*

**I**n warp-U bridge sampling, newly arXived and first presented at MCqMC 16, Xiao-Li Meng continues (in collaboration with Lahzi Wang) his exploration of bridge sampling techniques towards improving the estimation of normalising constants and ratios thereof. The bridge sampling estimator of Meng and Wong (1996) is an harmonic mean importance sampler that requires iterations as it depends on the ratio of interest. Given that the normalising constant of a density does not depend on the chosen parameterisation in the sense that the Jacobian transform preserves this constant, a degree of freedom is in the choice of the parameterisation. This is the idea behind warp transformations. The initial version of Meng and Schilling (2002) used location-scale transforms, while the warp-U solution goes for a multiple location-scale transform that can be seen as based on a location-scale mixture representation of the target. With K components. This approach can also be seen as a sort of artificial reversible jump algorithm when one model is fully known. A strategy Nicolas and I also proposed in our nested sampling Biometrika paper.

Once such a mixture approximation is obtained. each and every component of the mixture can be turned into the standard version of the location-scale family by the appropriate location-scale transform. Since the component index k is unknown for a given X, they call this transform a *random* transform, which I find somewhat more confusing that helpful. The conditional distribution of the index given the observable x is well-known for mixtures and it is used here to weight the component-wise location-scale transforms of the original distribution p into something that looks rather similar to the standard version of the location-scale family. If no mode has been forgotten by the mixture. The simulations from the original p are then rescaled by one of those transforms, which index k is picked according to the conditional distribution. As explained later to me by XL, the *random[ness]* in the picture is due to the inclusion of a random ± sign. Still, in the notation introduced in (13), I do not get how the distribution Þ *[sorry for using different symbols, I cannot render a tilde on a p]* is defined since both ψ and W are random. Is it the marginal? In which case it would read as a weighted average of rescaled versions of p. I have the same problem with Theorem 1 in that I do not understand how one equates Þ with the joint distribution.

Equation (21) is much more illuminating (I find) than the previous explanation in that it exposes the fact that the principle is one of aiming at a new distribution for both the target and the importance function, with hopes that the fit will get better. It could have been better to avoid the notion of random transform, then, but this is mostly a matter of conveying the notion.

On more specifics points (or minutiae), the unboundedness of the likelihood is rarely if ever a problem when using EM. An alternative to the multiple start EM proposal would then be to get sequential and estimate the mixture in a sequential manner, only adding a component when it seems worth it. See eg Chopin and Pelgrin (2004) and Chopin (2007). This could also help with the bias mentioned therein since only a (tiny?) fraction of the data would be used. And the number of components K has an impact on the accuracy of the approximation, as in not missing a mode, and on the computing time. However my suggestion would be to avoid estimating K as this must be immensely costly.

Section 6 obviously relates to my folded Markov interests. If I understand correctly, the paper argues that the transformed density Þ does not need to be computed when considering the folding-move-unfolding step as a single step rather than three steps. I fear the description between equations (30) and (31) is missing the move step over the transformed space. Also on a personal basis I still do not see how to add this approach to our folding methodology, even though the different transforms act as as many replicas of the original Markov chain.