Archive for improper priors

nested sampling: any prior anytime?!

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 26, 2021 by xi'an

A recent arXival by Justin Alsing and Will Handley on “nested sampling with any prior you like” caught my attention. If only because I was under the impression that some priors would not agree with nested sampling. Especially those putting positive weight on some fixed levels of the likelihood function, as well as improper priors.

“…nested sampling has largely only been practical for a somewhat restrictive class of priors, which have a readily available representation as a transform from the unit hyper-cube.”

Reading from the paper, it seems that the whole point is to demonstrate that “any proper prior may be transformed onto the unit hypercube via a bijective transformation.” Which seems rather straightforward if the transform is not otherwise constrained: use a logit transform in every direction. The paper gets instead into the rather fashionable direction of normalising flows as density representations. (Which suddenly reminded me of the PhD dissertation of Rob Cornish at Oxford, which I examined last year. Even though nested was not used there in the same understanding.) The purpose appearing later (in the paper) or in fine to express a random variable simulated from the prior as the (generative) transform of a Uniform variate, f(U). Resuscitating the simulation from an arbitrary distribution from first principles.

“One particularly common scenario where this arises is when one wants to use the (sampled) posterior from one experiment as the prior for another”

But I remained uncertain at the requirement for this representation in implementing nested sampling as I do not see how it helps in bypassing the hurdles of simulating from the prior constrained by increasing levels of the likelihood function. It would be helpful to construct normalising flows adapted to the truncated priors but I did not see anything related to this version in the paper.

The cosmological application therein deals with the incorporation of recent measurements in the study of the ΛCDM cosmological model, that is, more recent that the CMB Planck dataset we played with 15 years ago. (Time flies, even if an expanding Universe!) Namely, the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey and the SH0ES collaboration.

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?!)

O’Bayes 19/4

Posted in Books, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2019 by xi'an

Last talks of the conference! With Rui Paulo (along with Gonzalo Garcia-Donato) considering the special case of factors when doing variable selection. Which is an interesting question that I had never considered, as at best I would remove all leves or keeping them all. Except that there may be misspecification in the factors as for instance when several levels have the same impact.With Michael Evans discussing a paper that he wrote for the conference! Following his own approach to statistical evidence. And including his reluctance to cover infinity (calling on Gauß for backup!) or continuity, and his call to falsify a Bayesian model by checking it can be contradicted by the data. His assumption that checking for prior is separable from checking for [sampling] model is debatable. (With another mention made of the Savage-Dickey ratio.)

And with Dimitris Fouskakis giving a wide ranging assessment [which Mark Steel (Warwick) called a PEP talk!] of power-expected-posterior priors, used with reference (and usually improper) priors. Which in retrospect would have suited better the beginning of the conference as it provided a background to several of the talks. Raising a question (from my perspective) on using the maximum likelihood estimator as a pseudo-sufficient statistic when this MLE is computed for the base (simplest) model. Maybe an ABC induced bias in this question as it would not work for ABC model choice.

Overall, I think the scientific outcomes of the conference were quite positive: a wide range of topics and perspectives, a reasonable and diverse attendance, especially when considering the heavy load of related conferences in the surrounding weeks (the “June fatigue”!), animated poster sessions. I am obviously not the one to assess the organisation of the conference! Things I forgot to do in this regard: organise transportation from Oxford to Warwick University, provide an attached room for in-pair research, insist on sustainability despite the imposed catering solution, facilitate sharing joint transportation to and from the Warwick campus, mention that tap water was potable, and… wear long pants when running in nettles.

statistics with improper posteriors [or not]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , on March 6, 2019 by xi'an

Last December, Gunnar Taraldsen, Jarle Tufto, and Bo H. Lindqvist arXived a paper on using priors that lead to improper posteriors and [trying to] getting away with it! The central concept in their approach is Rényi’s generalisation of Kolmogorov’s version to define conditional probability distributions from infinite mass measures by conditioning on finite mass measurable sets. A position adopted by Dennis Lindley in his 1964 book .And already discussed in a few ‘Og’s posts. While the theory thus developed indeed allows for the manipulation of improper posteriors, I have difficulties with the inferential aspects of the construct, since one cannot condition on an arbitrary finite measurable set without prior information. Things get a wee bit more outwardly when considering “data” with infinite mass, in Section 4.2, since they cannot be properly normalised (although I find the example of the degenerate multivariate Gaussian distribution puzzling as it is not a matter of improperness, since the degenerate Gaussian has a well-defined density against the right dominating measure).  The paper also discusses marginalisation paradoxes, by acknowledging that marginalisation is no longer feasible with improper quantities. And the Jeffreys-Lindley paradox, with a resolution that uses the sum of the Dirac mass at the null, δ⁰, and of the Lebesgue measure on the real line, λ, as the dominating measure. This indeed solves the issue of the arbitrary constant in the Bayes factor, since it is “the same” on the null hypothesis and elsewhere, but I do not buy the argument, as I see no reason to favour δ⁰+λ over 3.141516 δ⁰+λ or δ⁰+1.61718 λ… (This section 4.5 also illustrates that the choice of the sequence of conditioning sets has an impact on the limiting measure, in the Rényi sense.) In conclusion, after reading the paper, I remain uncertain as to how to exploit this generalisation from an inferential (Bayesian?) viewpoint, since improper posteriors do not clearly lead to well-defined inferential procedures…

Jeffreys priors for hypothesis testing [Bayesian reads #2]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2019 by xi'an

A second (re)visit to a reference paper I gave to my OxWaSP students for the last round of this CDT joint program. Indeed, this may be my first complete read of Susie Bayarri and Gonzalo Garcia-Donato 2008 Series B paper, inspired by Jeffreys’, Zellner’s and Siow’s proposals in the Normal case. (Disclaimer: I was not the JRSS B editor for this paper.) Which I saw as a talk at the O’Bayes 2009 meeting in Phillie.

The paper aims at constructing formal rules for objective proper priors in testing embedded hypotheses, in the spirit of Jeffreys’ Theory of Probability “hidden gem” (Chapter 3). The proposal is based on symmetrised versions of the Kullback-Leibler divergence κ between null and alternative used in a transform like an inverse power of 1+κ. With a power large enough to make the prior proper. Eventually multiplied by a reference measure (i.e., the arbitrary choice of a dominating measure.) Can be generalised to any intrinsic loss (not to be confused with an intrinsic prior à la Berger and Pericchi!). Approximately Cauchy or Student’s t by a Taylor expansion. To be compared with Jeffreys’ original prior equal to the derivative of the atan transform of the root divergence (!). A delicate calibration by an effective sample size, lacking a general definition.

At the start the authors rightly insist on having the nuisance parameter v to differ for each model but… as we all often do they relapse back to having the “same ν” in both models for integrability reasons. Nuisance parameters make the definition of the divergence prior somewhat harder. Or somewhat arbitrary. Indeed, as in reference prior settings, the authors work first conditional on the nuisance then use a prior on ν that may be improper by the “same” argument. (Although conditioning is not the proper term if the marginal prior on ν is improper.)

The paper also contains an interesting case of the translated Exponential, where the prior is L¹ Student’s t with 2 degrees of freedom. And another one of mixture models albeit in the simple case of a location parameter on one component only.