Archive for MCMC

dropping a point

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2020 by xi'an

“A discussion about whether to drop the initial point came up in the plenary tutorial of Fred Hickernell at MCQMC 2020 about QMCPy software for QMC. The issue has been discussed by the pytorch community , and the scipy community, which are both incorporating QMC methods.”

Art Owen recently arXived a paper entitled On dropping the first Sobol’ point in which he examines the impact of a common practice consisting in skipping the first point of a Sobol’ sequence when using quasi-Monte Carlo. By analogy with the burn-in practice for MCMC that aims at eliminating the biais due to the choice of the starting value. Art’s paper shows that by skipping just this one point the rate of convergence of some QMC estimates may drop by a factor, bringing the rate back to Monte Carlo values! As this applies to randomised scrambled Sobol sequences, this is quite amazing. The explanation centers on the suppression leaving one region of the hypercube unexplored, with an O(n⁻¹) error ensuing.

The above picture from the paper makes the case in a most obvious way: the mean squared error is not decreasing at the same rate for the no-drop and one-drop versions, since they are -3/2 and -1, respectively. The paper further “recommends against using roundnumber sample sizes and thinning QMC points.” Conclusion: QMC is not MC!

computational advances in approximate Bayesian methods [at JSM]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on August 5, 2020 by xi'an

Another broadcast for an ABC (or rather ABM) session at JSM, organised and chaired by Robert Kohn, taking place tomorrow at 10am, ET, i.e., 2pm GMT, with variational and ABC talks:

454 * Thu, 8/6/2020, 10:00 AM – 11:50 AM Virtual
Computational Advances in Approximate Bayesian Methods — Topic Contributed Papers
Section on Bayesian Statistical Science
Organizer(s): Robert Kohn, University of New South Wales
Chair(s): Robert Kohn, University of New South Wales
10:05 AM Sparse Variational Inference: Bayesian Coresets from Scratch
Trevor Campbell, University of British Columbia
10:25 AM Fast Variational Approximation for Multivariate Factor Stochastic Volatility Model
David Gunawan, University of Wollongong; Robert Kohn, University of New South Wales; David Nott, National University of Singapore
10:45 AM High-Dimensional Copula Variational Approximation Through Transformation
Michael Smith, University of Melbourne; Ruben Loaiza-Maya, Monash University ; David Nott, National University of Singapore
11:05 AM Mini-Batch Metropolis-Hastings MCMC with Reversible SGLD Proposal
Rachel Wang, University of Sydney; Tung-Yu Wu, Stanford University; Wing Hung Wong, Stanford University
11:25 AM Weighted Approximate Bayesian Computation via Large Deviations Theory
Cecilia Viscardi, University of Florence; Michele Boreale, University of Florence; Fabio Corradi, University of Florence; Antonietta Mira, Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI)
11:45 AM Floor Discussion

deterministic moves in Metropolis-Hastings

Posted in Books, Kids, R, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2020 by xi'an

A curio on X validated where an hybrid Metropolis-Hastings scheme involves a deterministic transform, once in a while. The idea is to flip the sample from one mode, ν, towards the other mode, μ, with a symmetry of the kind

μ-α(x+μ) and ν-α(x+ν)

with α a positive coefficient. Or the reciprocal,

-μ+(μ-x)/α and -ν+(ν-x)/α

for… reversibility reasons. In that case, the acceptance probability is simply the Jacobian of the transform to the proposal, just as in reversible jump MCMC.

Why the (annoying) Jacobian? As explained in the above slides (and other references), the Jacobian is there to account for the change of measure induced by the transform.

Returning to the curio, the originator of the question had spotted some discrepancy between the target and the MCMC sample, as the moments did not fit well enough. For a similar toy model, a balanced Normal mixture, and an artificial flip consisting of

x’=±1-x/2 or x’=±2-2x

implemented by


I could not spot said discrepancy beyond Monte Carlo variability.

scalable Langevin exact algorithm [armchair Read Paper]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2020 by xi'an

So, Murray Pollock, Paul Fearnhead, Adam M. Johansen and Gareth O. Roberts presented their Read Paper with discussions on the Wednesday aft! With a well-sized if virtual audience of nearly a hundred people. Here are a few notes scribbled during the Readings. And attempts at keeping the traditional structure of the meeting alive.

In their introduction, they gave the intuition of a quasi-stationary chain as the probability to be in A at time t while still alice as π(A) x exp(-λt) for a fixed killing rate λ. The concept is quite fascinating if less straightforward than stationarity! The presentation put the stress on the available recourse to an unbiased estimator of the κ rate whose initialisation scaled as O(n) but allowed a subsampling cost reduction afterwards. With a subsampling rat connected with Bayesian asymptotics, namely on how quickly the posterior concentrates. Unfortunately, this makes the practical construction harder, since n is finite and the concentration rate is unknown (although a default guess should be √n). I wondered if the link with self-avoiding random walks was more than historical.

The initialisation of the method remains a challenge in complex environments. And hence one may wonder if and how better it does when compared with SMC. Furthermore, while the motivation for using a Brownian motion stems from the practical side, this simulation does not account for the target π. This completely blind excursion sounds worse than simulating from the prior in other settings.

One early illustration for quasi stationarity was based on an hypothetical distribution of lions and wandering (Brownian) antelopes. I found that the associated concept of soft killing was not necessarily well received by …. the antelopes!

As it happens, my friend and coauthor Natesh Pillai was the first discussant! I did no not get the details of his first bimodal example. But he addressed my earlier question about how large the running time T should be. Since the computational cost should be exploding with T. He also drew a analogy with improper posteriors as to wonder about the availability of convergence assessment.

And my friend and coauthor Nicolas Chopin was the second discussant! Starting with a request to… leave the Pima Indians (model)  alone!! But also getting into a deeper assessment of the alternative use of SMCs.

scalable Langevin exact algorithm [Read Paper]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2020 by xi'an

Murray Pollock, Paul Fearnhead, Adam M. Johansen and Gareth O. Roberts (CoI: all with whom I have strong professional and personal connections!) have a Read Paper discussion happening tomorrow [under relaxed lockdown conditions in the UK, except for the absurd quatorzine on all travelers|, but still in a virtual format] that we discussed together [from our respective homes] at Paris Dauphine. And which I already discussed on this blog when it first came out.

Here are quotes I spotted during this virtual Dauphine discussion but we did not come up with enough material to build a significant discussion, although wondering at the potential for solving the O(n) bottleneck, handling doubly intractable cases like the Ising model. And noticing the nice features of the log target being estimable by unbiased estimators. And of using control variates, for once well-justified in a non-trivial environment.

“However, in practice this simple idea is unlikely to work. We can see this most clearly with the rejection sampler, as the probability of survival will decrease exponentially with t—and thus the rejection probability will often be prohibitively large.”

“This can be viewed as a rejection sampler to simulate from μ(x,t), the distribution of the Brownian motion at time  t conditional on its surviving to time t. Any realization that has been killed is ‘rejected’ and a realization that is not killed is a draw from μ(x,t). It is easy to construct an importance sampling version of this rejection sampler.”