Archive for empirical likelihood

at the Isaac Newton Institute [talks]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on July 7, 2017 by xi'an

Here are the slides I edited this week [from previous talks by Pierre and Epstein] for the INI Workshop on scalable inference, in connection with our recently completed and submitted paper on ABC with Wasserstein distances:

BimPressioNs [BNP11]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2017 by xi'an

While my participation to BNP 11 has so far been more at the janitor level [although not gaining George Casella’s reputation on NPR!] than at the scientific one, since we had decided in favour of the least expensive and unstaffed option for coffee breaks, to keep the registration fees at a minimum [although I would have gladly gone all the way to removing all coffee breaks!, if only because such breaks produce much garbage], I had fairly good chats at the second poster session, in particular around empirical likelihoods and HMC for discrete parameters, the first one based on the general Cressie-Read formulation and the second around the recently arXived paper of Nishimura et al., which I wanted to read. Plus many other good chats full stop, around terrific cheese platters!

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Best conference spread ever

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This morning, the coffee breaks were much more under control and I managed to enjoy [and chair] the entire session on empirical likelihood, with absolutely fantastic talks from Nils Hjort and Art Owen (the third speaker having gone AWOL, possibly a direct consequence of Trump’s travel ban).

fast ε-free ABC

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2017 by xi'an

Last Fall, George Papamakarios and Iain Murray from Edinburgh arXived an ABC paper on fast ε-free inference on simulation models with Bayesian conditional density estimation, paper that I missed. The idea there is to approximate the posterior density by maximising the likelihood associated with a parameterised family of distributions on θ, conditional on the associated x. The data being then the ABC reference table. The family chosen there is a mixture of K Gaussian components, which parameters are then estimated by a (Bayesian) neural network using x as input and θ as output. The parameter values are simulated from an adaptive proposal that aims at approximating the posterior better and better. As in population Monte Carlo, actually. Except for the neural network part, which I fail to understand why it makes a significant improvement when compared with EM solutions. The overall difficulty with this approach is that I do not see a way out of the curse of dimensionality: when the dimension of θ increases, the approximation to the posterior distribution of θ does deteriorate, even in the best of cases, as any other non-parametric resolution. It would have been of (further) interest to see a comparison with a most rudimentary approach, namely the one we proposed based on empirical likelihoods.

HMC sampling in Bayesian empirical likelihood computation

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on March 31, 2017 by xi'an

While working on the Series B’log the other day I noticed this paper by Chauduri et al. on Hamiltonian Monte Carlo and empirical likelihood: how exciting!!! Here is the abstract of the paper:

We consider Bayesian empirical likelihood estimation and develop an efficient Hamiltonian Monte Car lo method for sampling from the posterior distribution of the parameters of interest.The method proposed uses hitherto unknown properties of the gradient of the underlying log-empirical-likelihood function. We use results from convex analysis to show that these properties hold under minimal assumptions on the parameter space, prior density and the functions used in the estimating equations determining the empirical likelihood. Our method employs a finite number of estimating equations and observations but produces valid semi-parametric inference for a large class of statistical models including mixed effects models, generalized linear models and hierarchical Bayes models. We overcome major challenges posed by complex, non-convex boundaries of the support routinely observed for empirical likelihood which prevent efficient implementation of traditional Markov chain Monte Car lo methods like random-walk Metropolis–Hastings sampling etc. with or without parallel tempering. A simulation study confirms that our method converges quickly and draws samples from the posterior support efficiently. We further illustrate its utility through an analysis of a discrete data set in small area estimation.

[The comment is reposted from Series B’log, where I wrote it first.]

It is of particular interest for me [disclaimer: I was not involved in the review of this paper!] as we worked on ABC thru empirical likelihood, which is about the reverse of the current paper in terms of motivation: when faced with a complex model, we substitute an empirical likelihood version for the real thing, run simulations from the prior distribution and use the empirical likelihood as a proxy. With possible intricacies when the data is not iid (an issue we also met with Wasserstein distances.) In this paper the authors instead consider working on an empirical likelihood as their starting point and derive an HMC algorithm to do so. The idea is striking in that, by nature, an empirical likelihood is not a very smooth object and hence does not seem open to producing gradients and Hessians. As illustrated by Figure 1 in the paper . Which is so spiky at places that one may wonder at the representativity of such graphs.

I have always had a persistent worry about the ultimate validity of treating the empirical likelihood as a genuine likelihood, from the fact that it is the result of an optimisation problem to the issue that the approximate empirical distribution has a finite (data-dependent) support, hence is completely orthogonal to the true distribution. And to the one that the likelihood function is zero outside the convex hull of the defining equations…(For one thing, this empirical likelihood is always bounded by one but this may be irrelevant after all!)

The computational difficulty in handling the empirical likelihood starts with its support. Eliminating values of the parameter for which this empirical likelihood is zero amounts to checking whether zero belongs to the above convex hull. A hard (NP hard?) problem. (Although I do not understand why the authors dismiss the token observations of Owen and others. The argument that Bayesian analysis does more than maximising a likelihood seems to confuse the empirical likelihood as a product of a maximisation step with the empirical likelihood as a function of the parameter that can be used as any other function.)

In the simple regression example (pp.297-299), I find the choice of the moment constraints puzzling, in that they address the mean of the white noise (zero) and the covariance with the regressors (zero too). Puzzling because my definition of the regression model is conditional on the regressors and hence does not imply anything on their distribution. In a sense this is another model. But I also note that the approach focus on the distribution of the reconstituted white noises, as we did in the PNAS paper. (The three examples processed in the paper are all simple and could be processed by regular MCMC, thus making the preliminary step of calling for an empirical likelihood somewhat artificial unless I missed the motivation. The paper also does not seem to discuss the impact of the choice of the moment constraints or the computing constraints involved by a function that is itself the result of a maximisation problem.)

A significant part of the paper is dedicated to the optimisation problem and the exclusion of the points on the boundary. Which sounds like a non-problem in continuous settings. However, this appears to be of importance for running an HMC as it cannot evade the support (without token observations). On principle, HMC should not leave this support since the gradient diverges at the boundary, but in practice the leapfrog approximation may lead the path outside. I would have (naïvely?) suggested to reject moves when this happens and start again but the authors consider that proper choices of the calibration factors of HMC can avoid this problem. Which seems to induce a practical issue by turning the algorithm into an adaptive version.

As a last point, I would have enjoyed seeing a comparison of the performances against our (A)BCel version, which would have been straightforward to implement in the simple examples handled by the paper. (This could be a neat undergraduate project for next year!)

Bayesian empirical likelihood

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , on July 21, 2016 by xi'an

non-tibetan flags in Pula, Sardinia, June 12, 2016Sid Chib, Minchul Shin, and Anna Simoni (CREST) recently arXived a paper entitled “Bayesian Empirical Likelihood Estimation and Comparison of Moment Condition Models“. That Sid mentioned to me in Sardinia. The core notion is related to earlier Bayesian forays into empirical likelihood pseudo-models, like Lazar (2005) or our PNAS paper with Kerrie Mengersen and Pierre Pudlo. Namely to build a pseudo-likelihood using empirical likelihood principles and to derive the posterior associated with this pseudo-likelihood. Some novel aspects are the introduction of tolerance (nuisance) extra-parameters when some constraints do not hold, a maximum entropy (or exponentially tilted) representation of the empirical  likelihood function, and a Chib-Jeliazkov representation of the marginal likelihood. The authors obtain a Bernstein-von Mises theorem under correct specification. Meaning convergence. And another one under misspecification.

While the above Bernstein-von Mises theory is somewhat expected (if worth deriving) in the light of frequentist consistency results, the paper also considers a novel and exciting aspect, namely to compare models (or rather moment restrictions) by Bayes factors derived from empirical likelihoods. A grand (encompassing) model is obtained by considering all moment restrictions at once, which first sounds like more restricted, except that the extra-parameters are there to monitor constraints that actually hold. It is unclear from my cursory read of the paper whether priors on those extra-parameters can be automatically derived from a single prior. And how much they impact the value of the Bayes factor. The consistency results found in the paper do not seem to depend on the form of priors adopted for each model (for all three cases of both correctly, one correctly and none correctly specified models). Except maybe for some local asymptotic normality (LAN). Interestingly (?), the authors consider the Poisson versus Negative Binomial test we used in our testing by mixture paper. This paper is thus bringing a better view of the theoretical properties of a pseudo-Bayesian approach based on moment conditions and empirical likelihood approximations. Without a clear vision of the implementation details, from the parameterisation of the constraints (which could be tested the same way) to the construction of the prior(s) to the handling of MCMC difficulties in realistic models.