Archive for Luke Tierney

Extending R

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

As I was previously unaware of this book coming up, my surprise and excitement were both extreme when I received it from CRC Press a few weeks ago! John Chambers, one of the fathers of S, precursor of R, had just published a book about extending R. It covers some reflections of the author on programming and the story of R (Parts 2 and 1),  and then focus on object-oriented programming (Part 3) and the interfaces from R to other languages (Part 4). While this is “only” a programming book, and thus not strictly appealing to statisticians, reading one of the original actors’ thoughts on the past, present, and future of R is simply fantastic!!! And John Chambers is definitely not calling to simply start over and build something better, as Ross Ihaka did in this [most read] post a few years ago. (It is also great to see the names of friends appearing at times, like Julie, Luke, and Duncan!)

“I wrote most of the original software for S3 methods, which were useful for their application, in the early 1990s.”

In the (hi)story part, Chambers delves into the details of the evolution of S at Bells Labs, as described in his [first]  “blue book” (which I kept on my shelf until very recently, next to the “white book“!) and of the occurrence of R in the mid-1990s. I find those sections fascinating maybe the more because I am somewhat of a contemporary, having first learned Fortran (and Pascal) in the mid-1980’s, before moving in the early 1990s to C (that I mostly coded as translated Pascal!), S-plus and eventually R, in conjunction with a (forced) migration from Unix to Linux, as my local computer managers abandoned Unix and mainframe in favour of some virtual Windows machines. And as I started running R on laptops with the help of friends more skilled than I (again keeping some of the early R manuals on my shelf until recently). Maybe one of the most surprising things about those reminiscences is that the very first version of R was dated Feb 29, 2000! Not because of Feb 29, 2000 (which, as Chambers points out, is the first use of the third-order correction to the Gregorian calendar, although I would have thought 1600 was the first one), but because I would have thought it appeared earlier, in conjunction with my first Linux laptop, but this memory is alas getting too vague!

As indicated above, the book is mostly about programming, which means in my case that some sections are definitely beyond my reach! For instance, reading “the onus is on the person writing the calling function to avoid using a reference object as the argument to an existing function that expects a named list” is not immediately clear… Nonetheless, most sections are readable [at my level] and enlightening about the mottoes “everything that exists is an object” and “everything that happens is a function” repeated throughout.  (And about my psycho-rigid ways of translating Pascal into every other language!) I obviously learned about new commands and notions, like the difference between

x <- 3


x <<- 3

(but I was disappointed to learn that the number of <‘s was not related with the depth or height of the allocation!) In particular, I found the part about replacement fascinating, explaining how a command like

diag(x)[i] = 3

could modify x directly. (While definitely worth reading, the chapter on R packages could have benefited from more details. But as Chambers points out there are whole books about this.) Overall, I am afraid the book will not improve my (limited) way of programming in R but I definitely recommend it to anyone even moderately skilled in the language.

Biometrika, volume 100

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2013 by xi'an

I had been privileged to have a look at a preliminary version of the now-published retrospective written by Mike Titterington on the 100 first issues of Biometrika (more exactly, “from volume 28 onwards“, as the title state). Mike was the dedicated editor of Biometrika for many years and edited a nice book for the 100th anniversary of the journal. He started from the 100th most highly cited papers within the journal to build a coherent chronological coverage. From a Bayesian perspective, this retrospective starts with Maurice Kendall trying to reconcile frequentists and non-frequentists in 1949, while having a hard time with fiducial statistics. Then Dennis Lindley makes it to the top 100 in 1957 with the Lindley-Jeffreys paradox. From 1958 till 1961, Darroch is quoted several times for his (fine) formalisation of the capture-recapture experiments we were to study much later (Biometrika, 1992) with Ed George… In the 1960’s, Bayesian papers became more visible, including Don Fraser (1961) and Arthur Dempster’ Demspter-Shafer theory of evidence, as well as George Box and co-authors (1965, 1968) and Arnold Zellner (1964). Keith Hastings’ 1970 paper stands as the fifth most highly cited paper, even though it was ignored for almost two decades. The number of Bayesian papers kept increasing. including Binder’s (1978) cluster estimation, Efron and Morris’ (1972) James-Stein estimators, and Efron and Thisted’s (1978) terrific evaluation of Shakespeare’s vocabulary. From then, the number of Bayesian papers gets too large to cover in its entirety. The 1980’s saw papers by Julian Besag (1977, 1989, 1989 with Peter Clifford, which was yet another precursor MCMC) and Luke Tierney’s work (1989) on Laplace approximation. Carter and Kohn’s (1994) MCMC algorithm on state space models made it to the top 40, while Peter Green’s (1995) reversible jump algorithm came close to Hastings’ (1970) record, being the 8th most highly cited paper. Since the more recent papers do not make it to the top 100 list, Mike Titterington’s coverage gets more exhaustive as the years draw near, with an almost complete coverage for the final years. Overall, a fascinating journey through the years and the reasons why Biometrika is such a great journal and constantly so.

lemma 7.3

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2012 by xi'an

As Xiao-Li Meng accepted to review—and I am quite grateful he managed to fit this review in an already overflowing deanesque schedule!— our 2004 book  Monte Carlo Statistical Methods as part of a special book review issue of CHANCE honouring the memory of George thru his books—thanks to Sam Behseta for suggesting this!—, he sent me the following email about one of our proofs—demonstrating how much efforts he had put into this review!—:

I however have a question about the proof of Lemma 7.3 
on page 273. After the expression of
E[h(x^(1)|x_0], the proof stated "and substitute 
Eh(x) for h(x_1)".  I cannot think of any
justification for this substitution, given the whole 
purpose is to show h(x) is a constant.

I put it on hold for a while and only looked at it in the (long) flight to Chicago. Lemma 7.3 in Monte Carlo Statistical Methods is the result that the Metropolis-Hastings algorithm is Harris recurrent (and not only recurrent). The proof is based on the characterisation of Harris recurrence as having only constants for harmonic functions, i.e. those satisfying the identity

h(x) = \mathbb{E}[h(X_t)|X_{t-1}=x]

The chain being recurrent, the above implies that harmonic functions are almost everywhere constant and the proof steps from almost everywhere to everywhere. The fact that the substitution above—and I also stumbled upon that very subtlety when re-reading the proof in my plane seat!—is valid is due to the fact that it occurs within an integral: despite sounding like using the result to prove the result, the argument is thus valid! Needless to say, we did not invent this (elegant) proof but took it from one of the early works on the theory of Metropolis-Hastings algorithms, presumably Luke Tierney’s foundational Annals paper work that we should have quoted…

As pointed out by Xiao-Li, the proof is also confusing for the use of two notations for the expectation (one of which is indexed by f and the other corresponding to the Markov transition) and for the change in the meaning of f, now the stationary density, when compared with Theorem 6.80.