Archive for JASA

What the …?!

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2020 by xi'an


informed proposals for local MCMC in discrete spaces

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2020 by xi'an

Last year Giacomo Zanella published a paper entitled informed proposals for local MCMC in discrete spaces in JASA. Which I had missed somehow and only discovered through another paper, and which we recently discussed at Paris-Dauphine with graduate students, marooned by COVID-19 . Probability targets in discrete spaces are intrinsically hard[er] to simulate in my opinion if only because there is no natural distance, hence no natural neighbourhood. A random walk proposal like the reference kernel in the paper is not directly calibrated. Without demarginalisation there is neither a clear version of calculus for implementing MALA or HMC. What indeed is HMC on a discrete space? If this requires “embedding the binary space in a continuous space”, it does not sound very enticing if the construct is context dependent.

“This would allow for more moves to be accepted and longer moves to be performed, thus improving the algorithm’s efficiency.”

A interesting aspect of the paper is that for near atomic transition kernels K, informally for small σ’s, the proposal switch to Q finds target x normalising constant as new stationary and close to the actual target. Which incidentally reminded me of our vanilla Rao-Blackwellisation with Randal Douc. This however begets the worry that it may prove unwieldy in continuous cases, as except for Gaussian kernels, the  proposal switch to Q may prove intractable and requires further MCMC steps, in a form of infinite regress. Plus a musing that, were the original kernel K to be replaced with the new Q, another informed proposal transform could be applied to Q. Further infinite regress…

“[The optimality of the Metropolis-Hastings choice of acceptance probability] does not translate to the context of balancing functions.”

The paper indeed exhibits a setting that is rehabilitating Barker’ (1965) version of the acceptance probability, but I never  was very much convinced there was a significant difference in using one or the other. During our virtual (?) discussion, we also wondered at the adaptive abilities of the approach, e.g., selecting among a finite family of g’s (according to which criterion) or parameterising g towards an optimal choice of its parameter. And at the capacity for Rao-Blackwellisation since the proposal have to consider the entire set of neighbours prior to moving to a likely one.

Colin Blyth (1922-2019)

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2020 by xi'an

While reading the IMS Bulletin (of March 2020), I found out that Canadian statistician Colin Blyth had died last summer. While we had never met in person, I remember his very distinctive and elegant handwriting in a few letters he sent me, including the above I have kept (along with an handwritten letter from Lucien Le Cam!). It contains suggestions about revising our Is Pitman nearness a reasonable criterion?, written with Gene Hwang and William Strawderman and which took three years to publish as it was deemed somewhat controversial. It actually appeared in JASA with discussions from Malay Ghosh, John Keating and Pranab K Sen, Shyamal Das Peddada, C. R. Rao, George Casella and Martin T. Wells, and Colin R. Blyth (with a much stronger wording than in the above letter!, like “What can be said but “It isn’t I, it’s you that are crazy?”). While I had used some of his admissibility results, including the admissibility of the Normal sample average in dimension one, e.g. in my book, I had not realised at the time that Blyth was (a) the first student of Erich Lehmann (b) the originator of [the name] Simpson’s paradox, (c) the scribe for Lehmann’s notes that would eventually lead to Testing Statistical Hypotheses and Theory of Point Estimation, later revised with George Casella. And (d) a keen bagpipe player and scholar.

non-reversibility in discrete spaces

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2020 by xi'an

Following a recent JASA paper by Giacomo Zanella (which I have not yet read but is discussed on this blog), Sam Power and Jacob Goldman have recently arXived a paper on Accelerated sampling on discrete spaces with non-reversible Markov processes, where they use continuous-time, non-reversible algorithms à la PDMP, even though differential equations do not exist on discrete spaces. More specifically, they devise discrete versions of the coordinate sampler and of the Zig-Zag sampler, using Markov jump processes instead of differential equations, with detailed balance on the jump rate rather than the Markov kernel. A use of jump processes originating at least from Peskun (1973) and connected with MCMC algorithms in Matthew Stephens‘ 1999 PhD thesis. A neat thing about discrete settings is that the jump process can be implemented with no discretisation! However, as we noticed when working on birth-and-death processes with Olivier Cappé and Tobias Rydèn, there is a potential for disastrous implementation if an infinite sequence of instantaneous moves (out of zero probability states) is proposed.

The authors make the further assumption(s) that the discrete space is endowed with a graphical structure with a group G acting upon this graph, with an involution keeping the target (or a completion of the original target) invariant. In this framework, reversibility amounts to repeatedly using (group) generators þ with a low order (as in Bayesian variable selection, binary spin systems, where þ.þ=id, and other permutation problems), since they bring the chain back to its starting point. Their first sampler is called a Tabu sampler for avoiding such behaviour, forcing the next step to use other generators þ in the generator set Þ thanks to a binary auxiliary variable that partitions Þ into forward vs backward moves. For high order generators, the discrete coordinate and Zig-Zag samplers are instead repeatedly using the same generator (although it is unclear to me why this is beneficial, given that neither graph nor generator is not necessarily linked with the target). With the coordinate sampler being again much cheaper since it only looks at one direction in the generator group.

The paper contains a range of comparisons with (only) Zanella’s sampler, some presenting heavy gains in terms of ESS. Including one on hundreds of sensors in a football stadium. As I am not particularly familiar with these examples, except for the Bayesian variable selection one, I found it rather hard to determine whether or not the compared samplers were indeed exploring the entirety of the (highly complex and highly dimensional) target. The collection of examples is however quite rich and support the use of such non-reversible schemes. It may also be that the discrete nature of the target could facilitate the theoretical study of their convergence properties.

a hatchet job [book review]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2019 by xi'an

By happenstance, I came across a rather savage review of John Hartigan’s Bayes Theory (1984) written by Bruce Hill in HASA, including the following slivers:

“By and large this book is at its best in developing the mathematical consequences of the theory and at its worst when dealing with the underlying ideas and concepts, which seems unfortunate since Bayesian statistics is above all an attempt to deal realistically with the nature of uncertainty and decision making.” B. Hill, JASA, 1986, p.569

“Unfortunately, those who had hoped for a serious contribution to the question will be disappointed.” B. Hill, JASA, 1986, p.569

“If the primary concern is mathematical convenience, not content or meaning, then the enterprise is a very different matter from what most of us think of as Bayesian approach.” B. Hill, JASA, 1986, p.570

“Perhaps in a century or two statisticians and probabilists will reach a similar state of maturity.” B. Hill, JASA, 1986, p.570

Perhaps this is a good place to mention that the notation in the book is formidable. Bayes’s theorem appears in a form that is  almost unrecognizable. As elsewhere, the mathematical treatment is elegant. but none of the deeper issues about the meaning and interpretation of conditional probability is discussed.” B. Hill, JASA, 1986, p.570

“The reader will find many intriguing ideas, much that is outrageous, and even some surprises (the likelihood principle is not mentioned, and conditional inference is just barely mentioned).” B. Hill, JASA, 1986, p.571

What is disappointing to me is that with a little more discipline and effort with regard to the ideas underlying Bayesian statistics, this book could have been a major contribution to the theory.” B. Hill, JASA, 1986, p.571

Another review by William Sudderth (1985, Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society) is much kinder to the book, except for the complaint that “the pace is brisk and sometimes hard to follow”.