Archive for maximum likelihood estimation

training energy based models

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on April 7, 2021 by xi'an

This recent arXival by Song and Kingma covers different computational approaches to semi-parametric estimation, but also exposes imho the chasm existing between statistical and machine learning perspectives on the problem.

“Energy-based models are much less restrictive in functional form: instead of specifying a normalized probability, they only specify the unnormalized negative log-probability (…) Since the energy function does not need to integrate to one, it can be parameterized with any nonlinear regression function.”

The above in the introduction appears first as a strange argument, since the mass one constraint is the least of the problems when addressing non-parametric density estimation. Problems like the convergence, the speed of convergence, the computational cost and the overall integrability of the estimator. It seems however that the restriction or lack thereof is to be understood as the ability to use much more elaborate forms of densities, which are then black-boxes whose components have little relevance… When using such mega-over-parameterised representations of densities, such as neural networks and normalising flows, a statistical assessment leads to highly challenging questions. But convergence (in the sample size) does not appear to be a concern for the paper. (Except for a citation of Hyvärinen on p.5.)

Using MLE in this context appears to be questionable, though, since the base parameter θ is not unlikely to remain identifiable. Computing the MLE is therefore a minor issue, in this regard, a resolution based on simulated gradients being well-chartered from the earlier era of stochastic optimisation as in Robbins & Monro (1954), Duflo (1996) or Benveniste & al. (1990). (The log-gradient of the normalising constant being estimated by the opposite of the gradient of the energy at a random point.)

“Running MCMC till convergence to obtain a sample x∼p(x) can be computationally expensive.”

Contrastive divergence à la Hinton (2002) is presented as a solution to the convergence problem by stopping early, which seems reasonable given the random gradient is mostly noise. With a possible correction for bias à la Jacob & al. (missing the published version).

An alternative to MLE is the 2005 Hyvärinen score, notorious for bypassing the normalising constant. But blamed in the paper for being costly in the dimension d of the variate x, due to the second derivative matrix. Which can be avoided by using Stein’s unbiased estimator of the risk (yay!) if using randomized data. And surprisingly linked with contrastive divergence as well, if a Taylor expansion is good enough an approximation! An interesting byproduct of the discussion on score matching is to turn it into an unintended form of ABC!

“Many methods have been proposed to automatically tune the noise distribution, such as Adversarial Contrastive Estimation (Bose et al., 2018), Conditional NCE (Ceylan and Gutmann, 2018) and Flow Contrastive Estimation (Gao et al., 2020).”

A third approach is the noise contrastive estimation method of Gutmann & Hyvärinen (2010) that connects with both others. And is a precursor of GAN methods, mentioned at the end of the paper via a (sort of) variational inequality.

folded Normals

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, R, Running, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2021 by xi'an

While having breakfast (after an early morn swim at the vintage La Butte aux Cailles pool, which let me in free!), I noticed a letter to the Editor in the Annals of Applied Statistics, which I was unaware existed. (The concept, not this specific letter!) The point of the letter was to indicate that finding the MLE for the mean and variance of a folded normal distribution was feasible without resorting to the EM algorithm. Since the folded normal distribution is a special case of mixture (with fixed weights), using EM is indeed quite natural, but the author, Iain MacDonald, remarked that an optimiser such as R nlm() could be called instead. The few lines of relevant R code were even included. While this is a correct if minor remark, I am a wee bit surprised at seeing it included in the journal, the more because the authors of the original paper using the EM approach were given the opportunity to respond, noticing EM is much faster than nlm in the cases they tested, and Iain MacDonald had a further rejoinder! The more because the Wikipedia page mentioned the use of optimisers much earlier (and pointed out at the R package Rfast as producing MLEs for the distribution).

a neat EM resolution

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on February 3, 2021 by xi'an

Read (and answered) this question on X validation about finding the maximum likelihood estimator of a 2×2 Gaussian covariance matrix when some observations are partly missing.  The neat thing is that, in this case, the maximisation step is identical to the maximum likelihood estimation of the 2×2 Gaussian covariance matrix by redefining the empirical covariance matrix into Z and maximising


in Σ. Nothing involved but fun to explain, nonetheless. (In my final exam this year, no student even approached the EM questions!)

artificial EM

Posted in Books, Kids, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on October 28, 2020 by xi'an

When addressing an X validated question on the use of the EM algorithm when estimating a Normal mean, my first comment was that it was inappropriate since there is no missing data structure to anchor by (right preposition?). However I then reflected upon the infinite number of ways to demarginalise the normal density into a joint density

f(x,z;μ)dz = φ(xμ)

from the (slice sampler) call to an indicator function for f(x,z;μ) to a joint Normal distribution with an arbitrary correlation. While the joint Normal representation produces a sequence converging to the MLE, the slice representation utterly fails as the indicator functions make any starting value of μ a fixed point for EM.

Incidentally, when quoting from Wikipedia on the purpose of the EM algorithm, the following passage

Finding a maximum likelihood solution typically requires taking the derivatives of the likelihood function with respect to all the unknown values, the parameters and the latent variables, and simultaneously solving the resulting equations.

struck me as confusing and possibly wrong since it seems to suggest to seek a maximum in both the parameter and the latent variables. Which does not produce the same value as the observed likelihood maximisation.

visualising bias and unbiasedness

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2019 by xi'an

A question on X validated led me to wonder at the point made by Christopher Bishop in his Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning book about the MLE of the Normal variance being biased. As it is illustrated by the above graph that opposes the true and green distribution of the data (made of two points) against the estimated and red distribution. While it is true that the MLE under-estimates the variance on average, the pictures are cartoonist caricatures in their deviance permanence across three replicas. When looking at 10⁵ replicas, rather than three, and at samples of size 10, rather than 2, the distinction between using the MLE (left) and the unbiased estimator of σ² (right).

When looking more specifically at the case n=2, the humongous variability of the density estimate completely dwarfs the bias issue:

Even when averaging over all 10⁵ replications, the difference is hard to spot (and both estimations are more dispersed than the truth!):