**A** paper by Au and Beck (2001) was mentioned during a talk at MCqMC 2018 in Rennes and I checked Probabilistic Engineering Mechanics for details. There is no clear indication that the subset simulation advocated therein is particularly effective. The core idea is to obtain the probability to belong to a small set A by a cascading formula, namely the product of the probability to belong to A¹, then the conditional probability to belong to A² given A¹, &tc. When the subsets A¹, A², …, A constitute a decreasing embedded sequence. The simulation conditional on being in one of the subsets is operated by a random-walk Metropolis-within-Gibbs scheme, with an additional rejection when the value is not in the said subset. (Surprisingly, the authors re-establish the validity of this scheme.) Hence the proposal faces similar issues as nested sampling, except that the nested subsets here are defined quite differently as they are essentially free, provided they can be easily evaluated. Each of the random walks need be scaled, the harder a task because this depends on the corresponding subset volume. The subsets themselves are rarely defined in a natural manner, except when being tail events. And need to be calibrated so that the conditional probability of falling into each remains large enough, the cost of free choice. The Markov chain on the previous subset can prove useful to build the next subset , but there is no general principle behind this remark. (If any, this is connected with X entropy.) But else, the past chains are very much wasted, compared with, say, an SMC treatment of the problem. The paper also notices that starting a Markov chain in the set means there is no burnin time and hence that the probability estimators are thus unbiased. (This creates a correlation between successive Markov chains, but I think it could be ignored if the starting point was chosen at random or after a random number of extra steps.) The authors further point out that the chain may fail to be ergodic, if the proposal distribution lacks energy to link connected regions of the current subset . They suggest using multiple chains with multiple starting points, which alleviates the issue only to some extent, as it ultimately depends on the spread of the starting points. As acknowledged in the paper.

## Archive for nested sampling

## subset sampling

Posted in Statistics with tags MCMC algorithms, MCqMC 2018, nested sampling, Probabilistic Engineering Mechanics, random walk, Rennes, subset sampling, tail events, tail probabilities on July 13, 2018 by xi'an## parallelizable sampling method for parameter inference of large biochemical reaction models

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags approximate Bayesian inference, Dirichlet mixture priors, hidden Markov models, intractable likelihood, nested sampling, particle filters, particle MCMC, SMC, SMC² on June 18, 2018 by xi'an**I** came across this older (2016) arXiv paper by Jan Mikelson and Mustafa Khammash [antidated as of April 25, 2018] as another version of nested sampling. The novelty of the approach is in applying nested sampling for approximating the likelihood function in the case of involved hidden Markov models (although the name itself does not appear in the paper). This is an interesting proposal, even though there is a fairly large and very active literature on computational approaches to such objects, from sequential Monte Carlo (SMC) to particle MCMC (pMCMC), to SMC².

“We found a way to efficiently sample parameter vectors (particles) from the super level set of the likelihood (sets of particles with a likelihood equal to or higher than some threshold) corresponding to an increasing sequence of thresholds” (p.2)

The approach here is an aggregate of nested sampling and particle filters (SMC), filters that are paradoxically employed in approximating the likelihood function itself, thus called repeatedly as the value of the parameter θ changes, unless I am confused, when it seems to me that, once started with particle filters, the authors could have used them all the way to the upper level (through, again, SMC²). Instead, and that brings a further degree of (uncorrected) approximation to the procedure, a Dirichlet process prior is used to estimate Gaussian mixture approximations to the true posterior distribution(s) on the (super) level sets. Now, approximating a distribution that is zero outside a compact set [the prior restricted to the likelihood being larger than by a distribution with an infinite support does not a priori sound like a particularly enticing idea. Note also that there is no later correction for using the mixture approximation to the restricted prior. (The method also involves an approximation of the (Lebesgue) volume of the level sets that may be poor in higher dimensions.)

“DP-GMM estimations work very well in high dimensional spaces and since we use rejection sampling to obtain samples from the level set by sampling from the DP-GMM estimation, the estimation error does not get propagated through iterations.” (p.13)

One aspect of the paper that puzzles me is the use of a rejection sampler to produce new parameters simulations from a given (super) level set, as this involves a lower bound M on the Gaussian mixture approximation over this level set. If a Gaussian mixture approximation is available, there is apparently no need for this as it can be sampled directly and values below the threshold can be disposed of. It is also unclear why the error does not propagate from one level to the next, if only because of the connection between the successive particle approximations.

## the [not so infamous] arithmetic mean estimator

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags arithmetic mean estimator, Bayesian Analysis, Chib's approximation, harmonic mean estimator, HPD region, importance sampling, label switching, mixture of distributions, nested sampling, unbiasedness on June 15, 2018 by xi'an

“Unfortunately, no perfect solution exists.”Anna Pajor

**A**nother paper about harmonic and not-so-harmonic mean estimators that I (also) missed came out last year in Bayesian Analysis. The author is Anna Pajor, whose earlier note with Osiewalski I also spotted on the same day. The idea behind the approach [which belongs to the branch of Monte Carlo methods requiring additional simulations after an MCMC run] is to start as the corrected harmonic mean estimator on a restricted set **A** as to avoid tails of the distributions and the connected infinite variance issues that plague the harmonic mean estimator (an old ‘Og tune!). The marginal density p(y) then satisfies an identity involving the prior expectation of the likelihood function restricted to **A** divided by the posterior coverage of **A**. Which makes the resulting estimator unbiased only when this posterior coverage of **A** is known, which does not seem realist or efficient, except if **A** is an HPD region, as suggested in our earlier “safe” harmonic mean paper. And efficient only when **A** is well-chosen in terms of the likelihood function. In practice, the author notes that P(**A**|y) is to be estimated from the MCMC sequence and that the set **A** should be chosen to return large values of the likelihood, p(y|θ), through importance sampling, hence missing somehow the double opportunity of using an HPD region. Hence using the same default choice as in Lenk (2009), an HPD region which lower bound is derived as the minimum likelihood in the MCMC sample, “range of the posterior sampler output”. Meaning P(**A**|y)=1. (As an aside, the paper does not produce optimality properties or even heuristics towards efficiently choosing the various parameters to be calibrated in the algorithm, like the set **A** itself. As another aside, the paper concludes with a simulation study on an AR(p) model where the marginal may be obtained in closed form if stationarity is not imposed, which I first balked at, before realising that even in this setting both the posterior and the marginal do exist for a finite sample size, and hence the later can be estimated consistently by Monte Carlo methods.) A last remark is that computing costs are not discussed in the comparison of methods.

The final experiment in the paper is aiming at the marginal of a mixture model posterior, operating on the galaxy benchmark used by Roeder (1990) and about every other paper on mixtures since then (incl. ours). The prior is pseudo-conjugate, as in Chib (1995). And label-switching is handled by a random permutation of indices at each iteration. Which may not be enough to fight the attraction of the current mode on a Gibbs sampler and hence does not automatically correct Chib’s solution. As shown in Table 7 by the divergence with Radford Neal’s (1999) computations of the marginals, which happen to be quite close to the approximation proposed by the author. (As an aside, the paper mentions poor performances of Chib’s method when centred at the posterior mean, but this is a setting where the posterior mean is meaningless because of the permutation invariance. As another, I do not understand how the RMSE can be computed in this real data situation.) The comparison is limited to Chib’s method and a few versions of arithmetic and harmonic means. Missing nested sampling (Skilling, 2006; Chopin and X, 2011), and attuned importance sampling as in Berkoff et al. (2003), Marin, Mengersen and X (2005), and the most recent Lee and X (2016) in Bayesian Analysis.

## unbiased consistent nested sampling via sequential Monte Carlo [a reply]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags auxiliary variable, Brisbane, evidence, marginal likelihood, nested sampling, Og, particle filter, QUT, unbiasedness on June 13, 2018 by xi'an*Rob Salomone sent me the following reply on my comments of yesterday about their recently arXived paper.*

“Which never occurred as the number one difficulty there, as the simplest implementation runs a Markov chain from the last removed entry, independently from the remaining entries. Even stationarity is not an issue sinceI believe that the first occurrence within the level set is distributed from the constrained prior.”

“And then, in a twist that is not clearly explained in the paper, the focus moves to an improved nested sampler that moves one likelihood value at a time, with a particle step replacing a singleparticle. (Things get complicated when several particles may take the very same likelihood value, but randomisation helps.) At this stage the algorithm is quite similar to the original nested sampler. Except for the unbiased estimation of the constants, thefinal constant, and the replacement of exponential weights exp(-t/N) by powers of (N-1/N)”

**is**a special case of SMC (with the weights replaced with a suboptimal choice).

## unbiased consistent nested sampling via sequential Monte Carlo

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags auxiliary variable, Brisbane, evidence, marginal likelihood, nested sampling, Og, particle filter, QUT, unbiasedness on June 12, 2018 by xi'an

“Moreover, estimates of the marginal likelihood are unbiased.” (p.2)

Rob Salomone, Leah South, Chris Drovandi and Dirk Kroese (from QUT and UQ, Brisbane) recently arXived a paper that frames the nested sampling in such a way that marginal likelihoods can be unbiasedly (and consistently) estimated.

“Why isn’t nested sampling more popular with statisticians?” (p.7)

A most interesting question, especially given its popularity in cosmology and other branches of physics. A first drawback pointed out in the c is the requirement of independence between the elements of the sample produced at each iteration. Which never occurred as the number one difficulty there, as the simplest implementation runs a Markov chain from the last removed entry, independently from the remaining entries. Even stationarity is not an issue since I believe that the first occurrence within the level set is distributed from the constrained prior.

A second difficulty is the use of quadrature which turns integrand into step functions at random slices. Indeed, mixing Monte Carlo with numerical integration makes life much harder, as shown by the early avatars of nested sampling that only accounted for the numerical errors. (And which caused Nicolas and I to write our critical paper in Biometrika.) There are few studies of that kind in the literature, the only one I can think of being [my former PhD student] Anne Philippe‘s thesis twenty years ago.

The third issue stands with the difficulty in parallelising the method. Except by jumping k points at once, rather than going one level at a time. While I agree this makes life more complicated, I am also unsure about the severity of that issue as k nested sampling algorithms can be run in parallel and aggregated in the end, from simple averaging to something more elaborate.

The final blemish is that the nested sampling estimator has a stopping mechanism that induces a truncation error, again maybe a lesser problem given the overall difficulty in assessing the total error.

The paper takes advantage of the ability of SMC to produce unbiased estimates of a sequence of normalising constants (or of the normalising constants of a sequence of targets). For nested sampling, the sequence is made of the prior distribution restricted to an embedded sequence of level sets. With another sequence restricted to bands (likelihood between two likelihood boundaries). If all restricted posteriors of the second kind and their normalising constant are known, the full posterior is known. Apparently up to the main normalising constant, i.e. the marginal likelihood., *ℨ*, except that it is also the sum of all normalising constants. Handling this sequence by SMC addresses the four concerns of the four authors, apart from the truncation issue, since the largest likelihood bound need be set for running the algorithm.

When the sequence of likelihood bounds is chosen based on the observed likelihoods so far, the method becomes adaptive. Requiring again the choice of a stopping rule that may induce bias if stopping occurs too early. And then, in a twist that is not clearly explained in the paper, the focus moves to an improved nested sampler that moves one likelihood value at a time, with a particle step replacing a single particle. (Things get complicated when several particles may take the very same likelihood value, but randomisation helps.) At this stage the algorithm is quite similar to the original nested sampler. Except for the unbiased estimation of the constants, the final constant, and the replacement of exponential weights exp(-t/N) by powers of (N-1/N).

The remainder of this long paper (61 pages!) is dedicated to practical implementation, calibration and running a series of comparisons. A nice final touch is the thanks to the ‘Og for its series of posts on nested sampling, which “helped influence this work, and played a large part in inspiring it.”

In conclusion, this paper is certainly a worthy exploration of the nested sampler, providing further arguments towards a consistent version, with first and foremost an (almost?) unbiased resolution. The comparison with a wide range of alternatives remains open, in particular time-wise, if evidence is the sole target of the simulation. For instance, the choice of this sequence of targets in an SMC may be improved by another sequence, since changing one particle at a time does not sound efficient. The complexity of the implementation and in particular of the simulation from the prior under more and more stringent constraints need to be addressed.

## nested sampling when prior and likelihood clash

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags Cam river, Cambridge, conflicting prior, efficiency measures, efficient importance sampling, intractable constant, marginal likelihood, nested sampling, statistical evidence, tempering on April 3, 2018 by xi'an**A** recent arXival by Chen, Hobson, Das, and Gelderblom makes the proposal of a new nested sampling implementation when prior and likelihood disagree, making simulations from the prior inefficient. The paper holds the position that a single given prior is used over and over all datasets that come along:

“…in applications where one wishes to perform analyses on many thousands (or even millions) of different datasets, since those (typically few) datasets for which the prior is unrepresentative can absorb a large fraction of the computational resources.” Chen et al., 2018

My reaction to this situation, provided (a) I want to implement nested sampling and (b) I realise there is a discrepancy, would be to resort to an importance sampling resolution, as we proposed in our Biometrika paper with Nicolas. Since one objection [from the authors] is that identifying outlier datasets is complicated (it should not be when the likelihood function can be computed) and time-consuming, sequential importance sampling could be implemented.

“The posterior repartitioning (PR) method takes advantage of the fact that nested sampling makes use of the likelihood L(θ) and prior π(θ) separately in its exploration of the parameter space, in contrast to Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) sampling methods or genetic algorithms which typically deal solely in terms of the product.” Chen et al., 2018

The above salesman line does not ring a particularly convincing chime in that nested sampling is about as myopic as MCMC since based on the similar notion of a local proposal move, starting from the lowest likelihood argument (the minimum likelihood estimator!) in the nested sample.

“The advantage of this extension is that one can choose (π’,L’) so that simulating from π’ under the constraint L'(θ) > l is easier than simulating from π under the constraint L(θ) > l. For instance, one may choose an instrumental prior π’ such that Markov chain Monte Carlo steps adapted to the instrumental constrained prior are easier to implement than with respect to the actual constrained prior. In a similar vein, nested importance sampling facilitates contemplating several priors at once, as one may compute the evidence for each prior by producing the same nested sequence, based on the same pair (π’,L’), and by simply modifying the weight function.” Chopin & Robert, 2010

Since the authors propose to switch to a product (π’,L’) such that π’.L’=π.L, the solution appears like a special case of importance sampling, with the added drwaback that when π’ is not normalised, its normalised constant must be estimated as well. (With an extra nested sampling implementation?) Furthermore, the advocated solution is to use tempering, which is not so obvious as it seems in small dimensions. As the mass does not always diffuse to relevant parts of the space. A more “natural” tempering would be to use a subsample in the (sub)likelihood for nested sampling and keep the remainder of the sample for weighting the evaluation of the evidence.

## divide & reconquer

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags arXiv, contour, contour algorithm, divide-and-conquer strategy, harmonic mean estimator, HPD region, large data problems, nested sampling, Purdue University, skewed distribution, sub-likelihood on February 5, 2018 by xi'an**Q**i Liu, Anindya Bhadra, and William Cleveland from Purdue have arXived a paper entitled *Divide and Recombine for Large and Complex Data: Model Likelihood Functions using MCMC*. Which is a variation on the earlier divide & … papers attempting at handling large datasets. The beginning is quite similar to these earlier papers in that the likelihood is split into sub-likelihoods, approximated from MCMC samples and recombined into an approximate full likelihood. As in for instance Scott et al. one approximation use for the subsample is to replace the likelihood with a Normal approximation, or a skew Normal generalisation, which remains a limited choice for heavy tailed likelihoods. Producing a Normal and skew-Normal approximation for the whole [data] likelihood, respectively. If I understand correctly, these approximations are missing a normalising constant to bring them to scale with the true likelihood, which I do not completely understand as the likelihood only needs to be defined up to a [constant] constant for most purposes, including Bayesian ones. The method of estimation of this constant proposed therein is called the *contour probability algorithm* and it consists in using a highest density region to compare a likelihood and its approximation. (Nothing to do with our adaptation of Gelfand and Dey (1994) based on HPDs, with Darren Wright. Nor with nested sampling.) Returning a form of qq-plot. This is rather exploratory, while hardly addressing the issue of the precision of such approximations and the resolution of conflicting proposals. And the comparison with all these other recent proposals for splitting likelihoods into manageable bits (proposals that are mentioned in the final section, including our recentering scheme with my student Changye Wu).