Archive for empirical Bayes

empirical Bayes, reference priors, entropy & EM

Posted in Mountains, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2017 by xi'an

Klebanov 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.

model selection and multiple testing

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2015 by xi'an


Ritabrata Dutta, Malgorzata Bogdan and Jayanta Ghosh recently arXived a survey paper on model selection and multiple testing. Which provides a good opportunity to reflect upon traditional Bayesian approaches to model choice. And potential alternatives. On my way back from Madrid, where I got a bit distracted when flying over the South-West French coast, from Biarritz to Bordeaux. Spotting the lake of Hourtain, where I spent my military training month, 29 years ago!

“On the basis of comparison of AIC and BIC, we suggest tentatively that model selection rules should be used for the purpose for which they were introduced. If they are used for other problems, a fresh justification is desirable. In one case, justification may take the form of a consistency theorem, in the other some sort of oracle inequality. Both may be hard to prove. Then one should have substantial numerical assessment over many different examples.”

The authors quickly replace the Bayes factor with BIC, because it is typically consistent. In the comparison between AIC and BIC they mention the connundrum of defining a prior on a nested model from the prior on the nesting model, a problem that has not been properly solved in my opinion. The above quote with its call to a large simulation study reminded me of the paper by Arnold & Loeppky about running such studies through ecdfs. That I did not see as solving the issue. The authors also discuss DIC and Lasso, without making much of a connection between those, or with the above. And then reach the parametric empirical Bayes approach to model selection exemplified by Ed George’s and Don Foster’s 2000 paper. Which achieves asymptotic optimality for posterior prediction loss (p.9). And which unifies a wide range of model selection approaches.

A second part of the survey considers the large p setting, where BIC is not a good approximation to the Bayes factor (when testing whether or not all mean entries are zero). And recalls that there are priors ensuring consistency for the Bayes factor in this very [restrictive] case. Then, in Section 4, the authors move to what they call “cross-validatory Bayes factors”, also known as partial Bayes factors and pseudo-Bayes factors, where the data is split to (a) make the improper prior proper and (b) run the comparison or test on the remaining data. They also show the surprising result that, provided the fraction of the data used to proper-ise the prior does not converge to one, the X validated Bayes factor remains consistent [for the special case above]. The last part of the paper concentrates on multiple testing but is more tentative and conjecturing about convergence results, centring on the differences between full Bayes and empirical Bayes. Then the plane landed in Paris and I stopped my reading, not feeling differently about the topic than when the plane started from Madrid.