Archive for minimaxity

value of a chess game

Posted in pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2020 by xi'an

In our (internal) webinar at CEREMADE today, Miguel Oliu Barton gave a talk on the recent result his student Luc Attia and himself obtained, namely a tractable way of finding the value of a game (when minimax equals maximin), result that got recently published in PNAS:

“Stochastic games were introduced by the Nobel Memorial Prize winner Lloyd Shapley in 1953 to model dynamic interactions in which the environment changes in response to the players’ behavior. The theory of stochastic games and its applications have been studied in several scientific disciplines, including economics, operations research, evolutionary biology, and computer science. In addition, mathematical tools that were used and developed in the study of stochastic games are used by mathematicians and computer scientists in other fields. This paper contributes to the theory of stochastic games by providing a tractable formula for the value of finite competitive stochastic games. This result settles a major open problem which remained unsolved for nearly 40 years.”

While I did not see a direct consequence of this result in regular statistics, I found most interesting the comment made at one point that chess (with forced nullity after repetitions) had a value, by virtue of Zermelo’s theorem. As I had never considered the question (contrary to Shannon!). This value remains unknown.

O’Bayes 19/3

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2019 by xi'an

Nancy Reid gave the first talk of the [Canada] day, in an impressive comparison of all approaches in statistics that involve a distribution of sorts on the parameter, connected with the presentation she gave at BFF4 in Harvard two years ago, including safe Bayes options this time. This was related to several (most?) of the talks at the conference, given the level of worry (!) about the choice of a prior distribution. But the main assessment of the methods still seemed to be centred on a frequentist notion of calibration, meaning that epistemic interpretations of probabilities and hence most of Bayesian answers were disqualified from the start.

In connection with Nancy’s focus, Peter Hoff’s talk also concentrated on frequency valid confidence intervals in (linear) hierarchical models. Using prior information or structure to build better and shrinkage-like confidence intervals at a given confidence level. But not in the decision-theoretic way adopted by George Casella, Bill Strawderman and others in the 1980’s. And also making me wonder at the relevance of contemplating a fixed coverage as a natural goal. Above, a side result shown by Peter that I did not know and which may prove useful for Monte Carlo simulation.

Jaeyong Lee worked on a complex model for banded matrices that starts with a regular Wishart prior on the unrestricted space of matrices, computes the posterior and then projects this distribution onto the constrained subspace. (There is a rather consequent literature on this subject, including works by David Dunson in the past decade of which I was unaware.) This is a smart demarginalisation idea but I wonder a wee bit at the notion as the constrained space has measure zero for the larger model. This could explain for the resulting posterior not being a true posterior for the constrained model in the sense that there is no prior over the constrained space that could return such a posterior. Another form of marginalisation paradox. The crux of the paper is however about constructing a functional form of minimaxity. In his discussion of the paper, Guido Consonni provided a representation of the post-processed posterior (P³) that involves the Dickey-Savage ratio, sort of, making me more convinced of the connection.

As a lighter aside, one item of local information I should definitely have broadcasted more loudly and long enough in advance to the conference participants is that the University of Warwick is not located in ye olde town of Warwick, where there is no university, but on the outskirts of the city of Coventry, but not to be confused with the University of Coventry. Located in Coventry.


distributed posteriors

Posted in Books, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on February 27, 2019 by xi'an

Another presentation by our OxWaSP students introduced me to the notion of distributed posteriors, following a 2018 paper by Botond Szabó and Harry van Zanten. Which corresponds to the construction of posteriors when conducting a divide & conquer strategy. The authors show that an adaptation of the prior to the division of the sample is necessary to recover the (minimax) convergence rate obtained in the non-distributed case. This is somewhat annoying, except that the adaptation amounts to take the original prior to the power 1/m, when m is the number of divisions. They further show that when the regularity (parameter) of the model is unknown, the optimal rate cannot be recovered unless stronger assumptions are made on the non-zero parameters of the model.

“First of all, we show that depending on the communication budget, it might be advantageous to group local machines and let different groups work on different aspects of the high-dimensional object of interest. Secondly, we show that it is possible to have adaptation in communication restricted distributed settings, i.e. to have data-driven tuning that automatically achieves the correct bias-variance trade-off.”

I find the paper of considerable interest for scalable MCMC methods, even though the setting may happen to sound too formal, because the study incorporates parallel computing constraints. (Although I did not investigate the more theoretical aspects of the paper.)

noninformative Bayesian prior with a finite support

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on December 4, 2018 by xi'an

A few days ago, Pierre Jacob pointed me to a PNAS paper published earlier this year on a form of noninformative Bayesian analysis by Henri Mattingly and coauthors. They consider a prior that “maximizes the mutual information between parameters and predictions”, which sounds very much like José Bernardo’s notion of reference priors. With the rather strange twist of having the prior depending on the data size m even they work under an iid assumption. Here information is defined as the difference between the entropy of the prior and the conditional entropy which is not precisely defined in the paper but looks like the expected [in the data x] Kullback-Leibler divergence between prior and posterior. (I have general issues with the paper in that I often find it hard to read for a lack of precision and of definition of the main notions.)

One highly specific (and puzzling to me) feature of the proposed priors is that they are supported by a finite number of atoms, which reminds me very much of the (minimax) least favourable priors over compact parameter spaces, as for instance in the iconic paper by Casella and Strawderman (1984). For the same mathematical reason that non-constant analytic functions must have separated maxima. This is conducted under the assumption and restriction of a compact parameter space, which must be chosen in most cases. somewhat arbitrarily and not without consequences. I can somehow relate to the notion that a finite support prior translates the limited precision in the estimation brought by a finite sample. In other words, given a sample size of m, there is a maximal precision one can hope for, producing further decimals being silly. Still, the fact that the support of the prior is fixed a priori, completely independently of the data, is both unavoidable (for the prior to be prior!) and very dependent on the choice of the compact set. I would certainly prefer to see a maximal degree of precision expressed a posteriori, meaning that the support would then depend on the data. And handling finite support posteriors is rather awkward in that many notions like confidence intervals do not make much sense in that setup. (Similarly, one could argue that Bayesian non-parametric procedures lead to estimates with a finite number of support points but these are determined based on the data, not a priori.)

Interestingly, the derivation of the “optimal” prior is operated by iterations where the next prior is the renormalised version of the current prior times the exponentiated Kullback-Leibler divergence, which is “guaranteed to converge to the global maximum” for a discretised parameter space. The authors acknowledge that the resolution is poorly suited to multidimensional settings and hence to complex models, and indeed the paper only covers a few toy examples of moderate and even humble dimensions.

Another difficulty with the paper is the absence of temporal consistency: since the prior depends on the sample size, the posterior for n i.i.d. observations is no longer the prior for the (n+1)th observation.

“Because it weights the irrelevant parameter volume, the Jeffreys prior has strong dependence on microscopic effects invisible to experiment”

I simply do not understand the above sentence that apparently counts as a criticism of Jeffreys (1939). And would appreciate anyone enlightening me! The paper goes into comparing priors through Bayes factors, which ignores the main difficulty of an automated solution such as Jeffreys priors in its inability to handle infinite parameter spaces by being almost invariably improper.

prior against truth!

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on June 4, 2018 by xi'an

A question from X validated had interesting ramifications, about what happens when the prior does not cover the true value of the parameter (assuming there ? In fact, not so much in that, from a decision theoretic perspective, the fact that that π(θ⁰)=0, or even that π(θ)=0 in a neighbourhood of θ⁰ does not matter [too much]. Indeed, the formal derivation of a Bayes estimator as minimising the posterior loss means that the resulting estimator may take values that were “impossible” from a prior perspective! Indeed, taking for example the posterior mean, the convex combination of all possible values of θ under π may well escape the support of π when this support is not convex. Of course, one could argue that estimators should further be restricted to be possible values of θ under π but that would reduce their decision theoretic efficiency.

An example is the brilliant minimaxity result by George Casella and Bill Strawderman from 1981: when estimating a Normal mean μ based on a single observation xwith the additional constraint that |μ|<ρ, and when ρ is small enough, ρ1.0567 quite specifically, the minimax estimator for this problem under squared error loss corresponds to a (least favourable) uniform prior on the pair {ρ,ρ}, meaning that π gives equal weight to ρ and ρ (and none to any other value of the mean μ). When ρ increases above this bound, the least favourable prior sees its support growing one point at a time, but remaining a finite set of possible values. However the posterior expectation, 𝔼[μ|x], can take any value on (ρ,ρ).

In an even broader suspension of belief (in the prior), it may be that the prior has such a restricted support that it cannot consistently estimate the (true value of the) parameter, but the associated estimator may remain admissible or minimax.