## LaTeX issues from Vienna

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2017 by xi'an

When working on the final stage of our edited handbook on mixtures, in Vienna, I came across unexpected practical difficulties! One was that by working on Dropbox with Windows users, files and directories names suddenly switched from upper case to lower cases letters !, making hard-wired paths to figures and subsections void in the numerous LaTeX files used for the book. And forcing us to change to lower cases everywhere. Having not worked under Windows since George Casella gave me my first laptop in the mid 90’s!, I am amazed that this inability to handle both upper and lower names is still an issue. And that Dropbox replicates it. (And that some people see that as a plus.)

The other LaTeX issue that took a while to solve was that we opted for one chapter one bibliography, rather than having a single bibliography at the end of the book, mainly because CRC Press asked for this feature in order to sell chapters individually… This was my first encounter with this issue and I found the solutions to produce individual bibliographies incredibly heavy handed, whether through chapterbib or bibunits, since one has to bibtex one .aux file for each chapter. Even with a one line bash command, this is annoying to the extreme!

## recycling Gibbs auxiliaries [a reply]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on January 3, 2017 by xi'an

[Here is a reply sent to me by Luca Martino, Victor Elvira, and Gustau Camp-Vallis, after my earlier comments on their paper.]

We provide our contribution to the discussion, reporting our experience with the application of Metropolis-within-Gibbs schemes. Since in literature there are miscellaneous opinions, we want to point out the following considerations:

– according to our experience, the use of M>1 steps of the Metropolis-Hastings (MH) method for drawing from each full-conditional (with or without recycling), decreases the MSE of the estimation (see code Ex1-Ex2 and related Figure 7(b) and Figures 8). If the corresponding full conditional is very concentrated, one possible solution is to applied an adaptive or automatic MH for drawing from this full-conditional (it can require the use of M internal steps; see references in Section 3.2).

– Fixing the number of evaluations of the posterior, the comparison between a longer Gibbs chain with a single step of MH and a shorter Gibbs chain with M>1 steps of MH per each full-conditional, is required. Generally, there is no clear winner. The better performance depends on different aspects: the specific scenario, if and adaptive MH is employed or not, if the recycling is applied or not (see Figure 10(a) and the corresponding code Ex2).

The previous considerations are supported/endorsed by several authors (see the references in Section 3.2). In order to highlight the number of controversial opinions about the MH-within-Gibbs implementation, we report a last observation:

– If it is possible to draw directly from the full-conditionals, of course this is the best scenario (this is our belief). Remarkably, as also reported in Chapter 1, page 393 of the book “Monte Carlo Statistical Methods”, C. Robert and Casella, 2004, some authors have found that a “bad” choice of the proposal function in the MH step (i.e., different from the full conditional, or a poor approximation of it) can improve the performance of the MH-within-Gibbs sampler. Namely, they assert that a more “precise” approximation of the full-conditional does not necessarily improve the overall performance. In our opinion, this is possibly due to the fact that the acceptance rate in the MH step (lower than 1) induces an “accidental” random scan of the components of the target pdf in the Gibbs sampler, which can improve the performance in some cases. In our work, for the simplicity, we only focus on the deterministic scan. However, a random scan could be also considered.

## recycling Gibbs auxiliaries

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2016 by xi'an

Luca Martino, Victor Elvira and Gustau Camps-Valls have arXived a paper on recycling for Gibbs sampling. The argument therein is to take advantage of all simulations induced by MCMC simulation for one full conditional, towards improving estimation if not convergence. The context is thus one when Metropolis-within-Gibbs operates, with several (M) iterations of the corresponding Metropolis being run instead of only one (which is still valid from a theoretical perspective). While there are arguments in augmenting those iterations, as recalled in the paper, I am not a big fan of running a fixed number of M of iterations as this does not approximate better the simulation from the exact full conditional and even if this approximation was perfect, the goal remains simulating from the joint distribution. As such, multiplying the number of Metropolis iterations does not necessarily impact the convergence rate, only brings it closer to the standard Gibbs rate. Moreover, the improvement does varies with the chosen component, meaning that the different full conditionals have different characteristics that produce various levels of variance reduction:

• if the targeted expectation only depends on one component of the Markov chain, multiplying the number of simulations for the other components has no clear impact, except in increasing time;
• if the corresponding full conditional is very concentrated, repeating simulations should produce quasi-repetitions, and no gain.

The only advantage in computing time that I can see at this stage is when constructing the MCMC sampler for the full proposal is much more costly than repeating MCMC iterations, which are then almost free and contribute to the reduction of the variance of the estimator.

This analysis of MCMC-withing-Gibbs strategies reminds me of a recent X validated question, which was about the proper degree of splitting simulations from a marginal and from a corresponding conditional in the chain rule, the optimal balance being in my opinion dependent on the relative variances of the conditional expectations.

A last point is that recycling in the context of simulation and Monte Carlo methodology makes me immediately think of Rao-Blackwellisation, which is surprisingly absent from the current paperRao-Blackwellisation was introduced in the MCMC literature and to the MCMC community in the first papers of Alan Gelfand and Adrian Smith, in 1990. While this is not always producing a major gain in Monte Carlo variability, it remains a generic way of recycling auxiliary variables as shown, e.g., in the recycling paper we wrote with George Casella in 1996, one of my favourite papers.

## Example 7.3: what a mess!

Posted in Books, Kids, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on November 13, 2016 by xi'an

A rather obscure question on Metropolis-Hastings algorithms on X Validated ended up being about our first illustration in Introducing Monte Carlo methods with R. And exposing some inconsistencies in the following example… Example 7.2 is based on a [toy] joint Beta x Binomial target, which leads to a basic Gibbs sampler. We thought this was straightforward, but it may confuse readers who think of using Gibbs sampling for posterior simulation as, in this case, there is neither observation nor posterior, but simply a (joint) target in (x,θ).

And then it indeed came out that we had incorrectly written Example 7.3 on the [toy] Normal posterior, using at times a Normal mean prior with a [prior] variance scaled by the sampling variance and at times a Normal mean prior with a [prior] variance unscaled by the sampling variance. I am rather amazed that this did not show up earlier. Although there were already typos listed about that example.

## variance of an exponential order statistics

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2016 by xi'an

This afternoon, one of my Monte Carlo students at ENSAE came to me with an exercise from Monte Carlo Statistical Methods that I did not remember having written. And I thus “charged” George Casella with authorship for that exercise!

Exercise 3.3 starts with the usual question (a) about the (Binomial) precision of a tail probability estimator, which is easy to answer by iterating simulation batches. Expressed via the empirical cdf, it is concerned with the vertical variability of this empirical cdf. The second part (b) is more unusual in that the first part is again an evaluation of a tail probability, but then it switches to find the .995 quantile by simulation and produce a precise enough [to three digits] estimate. Which amounts to assess the horizontal variability of this empirical cdf.

As we discussed about this question, my first suggestion was to aim at a value of N, number of Monte Carlo simulations, such that the .995 x N-th spacing had a length of less than one thousandth of the .995 x N-th order statistic. In the case of the Exponential distribution suggested in the exercise, generating order statistics is straightforward, since, as suggested by Devroye, see Section V.3.3, the i-th spacing is an Exponential variate with rate (N-i+1). This is so fast that Devroye suggests simulating Uniform order statistics by inverting Exponential order statistics (p.220)!

However, while still discussing the problem with my student, I came to a better expression of the question, which was to figure out the variance of the .995 x N-th order statistic in the Exponential case. Working with the density of this order statistic however led nowhere useful. A bit later, after Google-ing the problem, I came upon this Stack Exchange solution that made use of the spacing result mentioned above, namely that the expectation and variance of the k-th order statistic are

$\mathbb{E}[X_{(k)}]=\sum\limits_{i=N-k+1}^N\frac1i,\qquad \mbox{Var}(X_{(k)})=\sum\limits_{i=N-k+1}^N\frac1{i^2}$

which leads to the proper condition on N when imposing the variability constraint.

## Poisson process model for Monte Carlo methods

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , on February 25, 2016 by xi'an

“Taken together this view of Monte Carlo simulation as a maximization problem is a promising direction, because it connects Monte Carlo research with the literature on optimization.”

Chris Maddison arXived today a paper on the use of Poisson processes in Monte Carlo simulation. based on the so-called Gumbel-max trick, which amounts to add to the log-probabilities log p(i) of the discrete target, iid Gumbel variables, and to take the argmax as the result of the simulation. A neat trick as it does not require the probability distribution to be normalised. And as indicated in the above quote to relate simulation and optimisation. The generalisation considered here replaces the iid Gumbel variates by a Gumbel process, which is constructed as an “exponential race”, i.e., a Poisson process with an exponential auxiliary variable. The underlying variates can be generated from a substitute density, à la accept-reject, which means this alternative bounds the true target.  As illustrated in the plot above.

The paper discusses two implementations of the principle found in an earlier NIPS 2014 paper [paper that contains most of the novelty about this method], one that refines the partition and the associated choice of proposals, and another one that exploits a branch-and-bound tree structure to optimise the Gumbel process. With apparently higher performances. Overall, I wonder at the applicability of the approach because of the accept-reject structure: it seems unlikely to apply to high dimensional problems.

While this is quite exciting, I find it surprising that this paper completely omits references to Brian Ripley’s considerable input on simulation and point processes. As well as the relevant Geyer and Møller (1994). (I am obviously extremely pleased to see that our 2004 paper with George Casella and Marty Wells is quoted there. We had written this paper in Cornell, a few years earlier, right after the 1999 JSM in Baltimore, but it has hardly been mentioned since then!)

## running out of explanations

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics with tags , , , , , on September 23, 2015 by xi'an

A few days ago, I answered a self-study question on Cross Validated about the convergence in probability of 1/X given the convergence in probability of X to a. Until I ran out of explanations… I did not see how to detail any further the connection between both properties! The reader (OP) started from a resolution of the corresponding exercise in Casella and Berger’s Statistical Inference and could not follow the steps, some of which were incorrect. But my attempts at making him uncover the necessary steps failed, presumably because he was sticking to this earlier resolution rather than starting from the definition of convergence in probability. And he could not get over the equality

$\mathbb{P}(|a/X_{i} - 1| < \epsilon)=\mathbb{P}\left(a-{{a\epsilon}\over{1 + \epsilon}} < X_{i} < a + {{a\epsilon}\over{1 - \epsilon}}\right)$

which is the central reason why one convergence transfers to the other… I know I know nothing, and even less about pedagogy, but it is (just so mildly!) frustrating to hit a wall beyond which no further explanation can help! Feel free to propose an alternative resolution.

Update: A few days later, readers of Cross Validated pointed out that the question had been answered by whuber in a magisterial way. But I wonder if my original reader appreciated this resolution, since he did not pursue the issue.