Archive for MCMC

MCMC with strings and branes

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , on June 6, 2016 by xi'an

branes“Roughly speaking, the idea [of MCMC] is that the thermal fluctuations of a particle moving in an energy landscape provides a conceptually elegant way to sample from a target distribution.”

A short version of their earlier long paper was arXived last week by Heckman et al. The starting point of the paper is to consider simultaneously M parallel samplers by envisioning the M-uple as a single object. This reminded me of the attempt we had made in our 1995 pinball sampler paper with Kerrie Mengersen, where we introduced a repulsive scheme to keep the particles apart and individually stationary against the same target. The joint target being defined as the product of the individual targets. As a single Markov chain, the MCMC sampler can take advantage of the parallel chains to possibly improve the efficiency when compared with running M parallel chains. Possibly only, because the target has moved to a space that is M times larger…

“…although the physics of point particles underlies much of our modern understanding of natural phenomena, it has proven fruitful to consider objects such as strings and branes with finite extent in p spatial dimensions.”

The details of the proposal are somewhat unclear in that the notion of brane remains a mystery to me. It sounds like a sort of random graph over the indices of the particles, but endowed with further (magical?) physical properties. As defined in the paper the suburban algorithm picks a random (neighbourhood) graph at each iteration that is used in the proposal over the particle system (or ensemble). As justified by the authors, the fact that this choice is independent of the current state of the Markov chain implies stationarity. If not efficiency, when compared with the independent parallel MCMC scheme. And because there are so many ways in taking into account the neighbours. (I did not see (11) as a particularly relevant implementation of the algorithm, mixing a random walk move with another random walk on the time differences.) Actually, I have somewhat of a worry about the term “nearest neighbour” which may be defined by the graph (which is fine) or by the configuration of the particle system at time t (which is not fine).

“The effective dimension rather than the overall topology of the grid plays the dominant role in the performance of the algorithm.”

The limited influence of the grid topology is quite understandable in that the chain targets an iid sample, so there is no reason one index value is more relevant than another. All particles in the vector are interchangeable in this respect and in the long run only the number of connected particles should matter. A more interesting feature is that the suburban sampler seems to perform best for strings, i.e. when the number of connected particles is larger than two. This somewhat agrees with my initial remark that dealing with the M particles as a single object should slow down convergence because of the dimension increase. This is one reason why we did not pursue our pinball sampler any further, as it seemed to converge quite slowly.

“To summarize: With too few friends one drifts into oblivion, but with too many friends one becomes a boring conformist.”

The notion of generating a sample all at once is quite appealing, especially because of the iid nature of the target, but I am not convinced the approach followed in this paper is sufficiently involved for this purpose. Alex Shestopaloff and Radford Neal’s recent work on ensemble MCMC is certainly pushing things further in the analysis of efficient moves. I also wonder if a repulsive component shouldn’t be added to the target as in pinball sampling, borrowing maybe from determinental processes, towards a more thorough exploration of the target. Even though it remains unclear that this will be more efficient than running M parallel chains.

inefficiency of data augmentation for large samples

Posted in Books, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2016 by xi'an

On Monday, James Johndrow, Aaron Smith, Natesh Pillai, and David Dunson arXived a paper on the diminishing benefits of using data augmentation for large and highly imbalanced categorical data. They reconsider the data augmentation scheme of Tanner and Wong (1987), surprisingly not mentioned, used in the first occurrences of the Gibbs sampler like Albert and Chib’s (1993) or our mixture estimation paper with Jean Diebolt (1990). The central difficulty with data augmentation is that the distribution to be simulated operates on a space that is of order O(n), even when the original distribution covers a single parameter. As illustrated by the coalescent in population genetics (and the subsequent intrusion of the ABC methodology), there are well-known cases when the completion is near to impossible and clearly inefficient (as again illustrated by the failure of importance sampling strategies on the coalescent). The paper provides spectral gaps for the logistic and probit regression completions, which are of order a power of log(n) divided by √n, when all observations are equal to one. In a somewhat related paper with Jim Hobert and Vivek Roy, we studied the spectral gap for mixtures with a small number of observations: I wonder at the existence of a similar result in this setting, when all observations stem from one component of the mixture, when all observations are one. The result in this paper is theoretically appealing, the more because the posteriors associated with such models are highly regular and very close to Gaussian (and hence not that challenging as argued by Chopin and Ridgway). And because the data augmentation algorithm is uniformly ergodic in this setting (as we established with Jean Diebolt  and later explored with Richard Tweedie). As demonstrated in the  experiment produced in the paper, when comparing with HMC and Metropolis-Hastings (same computing times?), which produce much higher effective sample sizes.

reversible chain[saw] massacre

Posted in Books, pictures, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2016 by xi'an

A paper in Nature this week that uses reversible-jump MCMC, phylogenetic trees, and Bayes factors. And that looks at institutionalised or ritual murders in Austronesian cultures. How better can it get?!

“by applying Bayesian phylogenetic methods (…) we find strong support for models in which human sacrifice stabilizes social stratification once stratification has arisen, and promotes a shift to strictly inherited class systems.” Joseph Watts et al.

The aim of the paper is to establish that societies with human sacrifices are more likely to have become stratified and stable than societies without such niceties. The hypothesis to be tested is then about the evolution towards more stratified societies rather the existence of a high level of stratification.

“The social control hypothesis predicts that human sacrifice (i) co-evolves with social stratification, (ii) increases the chance of a culture gaining social stratification, and (iii) reduces the chance of a culture losing social stratification once stratification has arisen.” Joseph Watts et al.

The methodological question is then how can this be tested when considering those are extinct societies about which little is known. Grouping together moderate and high stratification societies against egalitarian societies, the authors tested independence of both traits versus dependence, with a resulting Bayes factor of 3.78 in favour of the latest. Other hypotheses of a similar flavour led to Bayes factors in the same range. Which is thus not overwhelming. Actually, given that the models are quite simplistic, I do not agree that those Bayes factors prove anything of the magnitude of such anthropological conjectures. Even if the presence/absence of human sacrifices is confirmed in all of the 93 societies, and if the stratification of the cultures is free from uncertainties, the evolutionary part is rather involved, from my neophyte point of view: the evolutionary structure (reproduced above) is based on a sample of 4,200 trees based on Bayesian analysis of Austronesian basic vocabulary items, followed by a call to the BayesTrait software to infer about evolution patterns between stratification levels, concluding (with p-values!) at a phylogenetic structure of the data. BayesTrait was also instrumental in deriving MLEs for the various transition rates, “in order to inform our choice of priors” (!). BayesTrait has an MCMC function used by the authors “to test for correlated evolution between traits” and derive the above Bayes factors. Using a stepping-stone method I am unaware of. And 10⁹ iterations (repeated 3 times for checking consistency)… Reversible jump is apparently used to move between constrained and unconstrained models, leading to the pie charts at the inner nodes of the above picture. Again a by-product of BayesTrait. The trees on the left and the right are completely identical, the difference being in the inference about stratification evolution (right) and sacrifice evolution (left). While the overall hypothesis makes sense at my layman level (as a culture has to be stratified enough to impose sacrifices from its members), I am not convinced that this involved statistical analysis brings that strong a support. (But it would make a fantastic topic for an undergraduate or a Master thesis!)

AISTATS 2016 [#1]

Posted in pictures, R, Running, Statistics, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2016 by xi'an

Travelling through Seville, I arrived in Càdiz on Sunday night, along with a massive depression [weather-speaking!]. Walking through the city from the station was nonetheless pleasant as this is an town full of small streets and nice houses. If with less churches than Seville! Richard Samworth gave the first plenary talk of AISTATS 2016  with a presentation on random projections for classification. His classifier is based on an average of a large number of linear random projections of the original data where the projections are chosen as minimising the prediction error over a subset of the components. The performances of this approach seem to be consistently higher than for random forests, which makes it definitely worth investigating further. (A related R package is available.)

The following talks that day covered Bayesian optimisation and probabilistic numerics, with Javier Gonzales introducing glasses for Bayesian optimisation in order to solve its myopia (!)—by which he meant predicting the output of the optimisation over n future steps. And a first mention of the Pima Indians by Daniel Hernandez-Lobato in his talk about EP with stochastic gradient steps towards optimisation. (As well as much larger datasets.) And Mark Girolami bringing quasi-Monte Carlo into control variates. A kernel based ABC by Mijung Park, which uses kernels and maximum mean discrepancy to avoid defining summary statistics, and a version of parallel MCMC by Guillaume Basse. Plus another session on deep learning.

As usual with AISTATS conferences, the central activity of the day was the noon poster session, including speakers discussing their paper, and I had several interesting chats about MCMC related topics, with e.g. one alternative notion of ensemble MCMC [centred on estimating the normalising constant].

We awarded the notable student paper awards before the welcoming cocktail: The winners are Bo DaiNedelina Teneva, and Ye Wang.  And this first day ended up with a companionable evening in a most genuine tapa bar, tasting local blood sausage and local blue cheese. (If you do not mind the corrida theme!)

exact, unbiased, what else?!

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2016 by xi'an

Last week, Matias Quiroz, Mattias Villani, and Robert Kohn arXived a paper on exact subsampling MCMC, a paper that contributes to the current literature on approximating MCMC samplers for large datasets, in connection with an earlier paper of Quiroz et al. discussed here last week.

quirozetal.The “exact” in the title is to be understood in the Russian roulette sense. By using Rhee and Glynn debiaising device, the authors achieve an unbiased estimator of the likelihood as in Bardenet et al. (2015). The central tool for the derivation of an unbiased and positive estimator is to find a control variate for each component of the log likelihood that is good enough for the difference between the component and the control to be lower bounded. By the constant a in the screen capture above. When the individual terms d in the product are iid unbiased estimates of the log likelihood difference. And q is the sum of the control variates. Or maybe more accurately of the cheap substitutes to the exact log likelihood components. Thus still of complexity O(n), which makes the application to tall data more difficult to contemplate.

The $64 question is obviously how to produce cheap and efficient control variates that kill the curse of the tall data. (It still irks to resort to this term of control variate, really!) Section 3.2 in the paper suggests clustering the data and building an approximation for each cluster, which seems to imply manipulating the whole dataset at this early stage. At a cost of O(Knd). Furthermore, because finding a correct lower bound a is close to impossible in practice, the authors use a “soft lower bound”, meaning that it is only an approximation and thus that (3.4) above can get negative from time to time, which cancels the validation of the method as a pseudo-marginal approach. The resolution of this difficulty is to resort to the same proxy as in the Russian roulette paper, replacing the unbiased estimator with its absolute value, an answer I already discussed for the Russian roulette paper. An additional step is proposed by Quiroz et al., namely correlating the random numbers between numerator and denominator in their final importance sampling estimator, via a Gaussian copula as in Deligiannidis et al.

This paper made me wonder (idly wonder, mind!) anew how to get rid of the vexing unbiasedness requirement. From a statistical and especially from a Bayesian perspective, unbiasedness is a second order property that cannot be achieved for most transforms of the parameter θ. And that does not keep under reparameterisation. It is thus vexing and perplexing that unbiased is so central to the validation of our Monte Carlo technique and that any divergence from this canon leaves us wandering blindly with no guarantee of ever reaching the target of the simulation experiment…

variational Bayes for variable selection

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on March 30, 2016 by xi'an

Lake Agnes, Canadian Rockies, July 2007Xichen Huang, Jin Wang and Feng Liang have recently arXived a paper where they rely on variational Bayes in conjunction with a spike-and-slab prior modelling. This actually stems from an earlier paper by Carbonetto and Stephens (2012), the difference being in the implementation of the method, which is less Gibbs-like for the current paper. The approach is not fully Bayesian in that, not only an approximate (variational) representation is used for the parameters of interest (regression coefficient and presence-absence indicators) but also the nuisance parameters are replaced with MAPs. The variational approximation on the regression parameters is an independent product of spike-and-slab distributions. The authors show the approximate approach is consistent in both frequentist and Bayesian terms (under identifiability assumptions). The method is undoubtedly faster than MCMC since it shares many features with EM but I still wonder at the Bayesian interpretability of the outcome, which writes out as a product of estimated spike-and-slab mixtures. First, the weights in the mixtures are estimated by EM, hence fixed. Second, the fact that the variational approximation is a product is confusing in that the posterior distribution on the regression coefficients is unlikely to produce posterior independence.

at CIRM [#3]

Posted in Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2016 by xi'an

Simon Barthelmé gave his mini-course on EP, with loads of details on the implementation of the method. Focussing on the EP-ABC and MCMC-EP versions today. Leaving open the difficulty of assessing to which limit EP is converging. But mentioning the potential for asynchronous EP (on which I would like to hear more). Ironically using several times a logistic regression example, if not on the Pima Indians benchmark! He also talked about approximate EP solutions that relate to consensus MCMC. With a connection to Mark Beaumont’s talk at NIPS [at the time as mine!] on the comparison with ABC. While we saw several talks on EP during this week, I am still agnostic about the potential of the approach. It certainly produces a fast proxy to the true posterior and hence can be exploited ad nauseam in inference methods based on pseudo-models like indirect inference. In conjunction with other quick and dirty approximations when available. As in ABC, it would be most useful to know how far from the (ideal) posterior distribution does the approximation stands. Machine learning approaches presumably allow for an evaluation of the predictive performances, but less so for the modelling accuracy, even with new sampling steps. [But I know nothing, I know!]

Dennis Prangle presented some on-going research on high dimension [data] ABC. Raising the question of what is the true meaning of dimension in ABC algorithms. Or of sample size. Because the inference relies on the event d(s(y),s(y’))≤ξ or on the likelihood l(θ|x). Both one-dimensional. Mentioning Iain Murray’s talk at NIPS [that I also missed]. Re-expressing as well the perspective that ABC can be seen as a missing or estimated normalising constant problem as in Bornn et al. (2015) I discussed earlier. The central idea is to use SMC to simulate a particle cloud evolving as the target tolerance ξ decreases. Which supposes a latent variable structure lurking in the background.

Judith Rousseau gave her talk on non-parametric mixtures and the possibility to learn parametrically about the component weights. Starting with a rather “magic” result by Allman et al. (2009) that three repeated observations per individual, all terms in a mixture are identifiable. Maybe related to that simpler fact that mixtures of Bernoullis are not identifiable while mixtures of Binomial are identifiable, even when n=2. As “shown” in this plot made for X validated. Actually truly related because Allman et al. (2009) prove identifiability through a finite dimensional model. (I am surprised I missed this most interesting paper!) With the side condition that a mixture of p components made of r Bernoulli products is identifiable when p ≥ 2[log² r] +1, when log² is base 2-logarithm. And [x] the upper rounding. I also find most relevant this distinction between the weights and the remainder of the mixture as weights behave quite differently, hardly parameters in a sense.