## Archive for Norway

## Froebenius coin problem

Posted in pictures, R, Statistics with tags bills, codegolf, combn(), Ferdinand Frobenius, james Joseph Sylvester, Journal of Number Theory, mathematical puzzle, Norway, PhD thesis, Sylvester's formula, The Riddler on November 29, 2019 by xi'an**A** challenge from The Riddler last weekend came out as the classical Frobenius coin problem, namely to find the largest amount that cannot be obtained using only n coins of specified coprime denominations (i.e., with gcd equal to one). There is always such a largest value. For the units a=19 and b=538, I ran a basic R code that returned 9665 as the largest impossible value, which happens to be 19×538-538-19, the Sylvester solution to the problem when n=2. A recent paper by Tripathi (2017) manages the case n=3, for “almost all triples”, which decomposes into a myriad of sub-cases. (As an aside, Tripathi (2017) thanks a PhD student, Prof. Thomas W. Cusick, for contributing to the proof, which constitutes a part of his dissertation, but does not explain why he did not join as co-author.) The specific case when a=19, b=101, and c=538 suggested by The Riddler happens to fall in one of the simplest categories since, as ⌊cb⁻¹⌋ and ⌊cb⁻¹⌋ (a) are equal and gcd(a,b)=1 (Lemma 2), the solution is then the same as for the pair (a,b), namely 1799. As this was quite a light puzzle, I went looking for a codegolf challenge that addressed this problem and lo and behold! found one. And proposed the condensed R function

function(a)max((1:(b<-prod(a)))[-apply(combn(outer(a,0:b,"*"),sum(!!a))),2,sum)])

that assumes no duplicate and ordering in the input a. (And learned about *combn* from Robin.) It is of course very inefficient—to the point of crashing R—to look at the upper bound

for the Frobenius number since

is already an upper bound, by Sylvester’s formula. But coding (2) would alas take much more space…

## look, look, confidence! [book review]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags ABC, amazon associates, Bayesian foundations, BibTeX, book review, confidence distribution, confidence intervals, epistemic probability, fiducial distribution, frequentist coverage, Neyman-Scott problem, Nobel Prize, Norway, prior free posterior, Quenouille, survey, whales on April 23, 2018 by xi'an**A**s it happens, I recently bought [with Amazon Associate earnings] a (used) copy of Confidence, Likelihood, Probability (Statistical Inference with Confidence Distributions), by Tore Schweder and Nils Hjort, to try to understand this confusing notion of confidence distributions. (And hence did not get the book from CUP or anyone else towards purposely writing a review. Or a ½-review like the one below.)

“Fisher squared the circle and obtained a posterior without a prior.” (p.419)

Now that I have gone through a few chapters, I am no less confused about the point of this notion. Which seems to rely on the availability of confidence intervals. Exact or asymptotic ones. The authors plainly recognise (p.61) that a confidence distribution is neither a posterior distribution nor a fiducial distribution, hence cutting off any possible Bayesian usage of the approach. Which seems right in that there is no coherence behind the construct, meaning for instance there is no joint distribution corresponding to the resulting marginals. Or even a specific dominating measure in the parameter space. (Always go looking for the dominating measure!) As usual with frequentist procedures, there is always a feeling of arbitrariness in the resolution, as for instance in the Neyman-Scott problem (p.112) where the profile likelihood and the deviance do not work, but considering directly the distribution of the (inconsistent) MLE of the variance “saves the day”, which sounds a bit like starting from the solution. Another statistical freak, the Fieller-Creasy problem (p.116) remains a freak in this context as it does not seem to allow for a confidence distribution. I also notice an ambivalence in the discourse of the authors of this book, namely that while they claim confidence distributions are both outside a probabilisation of the parameter and inside, “producing distributions for parameters of interest given the data (…) with fewer philosophical and interpretational obstacles” (p.428).

“Bias is particularly difficult to discuss for Bayesian methods, and seems not to be a worry for most Bayesian statisticians.” (p.10)

The discussions as to whether or not confidence distributions form a synthesis of Bayesianism and frequentism always fall short from being convincing, the choice of (or the dependence on) a prior distribution appearing to the authors as a failure of the former approach. Or unnecessarily complicated when there are nuisance parameters. Apparently missing on the (high) degree of subjectivity involved in creating the confidence procedures. Chapter 1 contains a section on “Why not go Bayesian?” that starts from Chris Sims‘ Nobel Lecture on the appeal of Bayesian methods and goes [softly] rampaging through each item. One point (3) is recurrent in many criticisms of B and I always wonder whether or not it is tongue-in-cheek-y… Namely the fact that parameters of a model are rarely if ever stochastic. This is a misrepresentation of the use of prior and posterior distributions [which are in fact] as summaries of information cum uncertainty. About a true fixed parameter. Refusing as does the book to endow posteriors with an epistemic meaning (except for “Bayesian of the Lindley breed” (p.419) is thus most curious. (The debate is repeating in the final(e) chapter as “why the world need not be Bayesian after all”.)

“To obtain frequentist unbiasedness, the Bayesian will have to choose her prior with unbiasedness in mind. Is she then a Bayesian?” (p.430)

A general puzzling feature of the book is that notions are not always immediately defined, but rather discussed and illustrated first. As for instance for the central notion of fiducial probability (Section 1.7, then Chapter 6), maybe because Fisher himself did not have a general principle to advance. The construction of a confidence distribution most often keeps a measure of mystery (and arbitrariness), outside the rather stylised setting of exponential families and sufficient (conditionally so) statistics. (Incidentally, our 2012 ABC survey is [kindly] quoted in relation with approximate sufficiency (p.180), while it does not sound particularly related to this part of the book. Now, is there an ABC version of confidence distributions? Or an ABC derivation?) This is not to imply that the book is uninteresting!, as I found reading it quite entertaining, with many humorous and tongue-in-cheek remarks, like “From Fraser (1961a) and until Fraser (2011), and hopefully even further” (p.92), and great datasets. (Including one entitled *Pornoscope*, which is about *drosophilia* mating.) And also datasets with lesser greatness, like the 3000 mink whales that were killed for Example 8.5, where the authors if not the whales “are saved by a large and informative dataset”… (Whaling is a recurrent [national?] theme throughout the book, along with sport statistics usually involving Norway!)

Miscellanea: The interest of the authors in the topic is credited to bowhead whales, more precisely to Adrian Raftery’s geometric merging (or melding) of two priors and to the resulting Borel paradox (xiii). Proposal that I remember Adrian presenting in Luminy, presumably in 1994. Or maybe in Aussois the year after. The book also repeats Don Fraser’s notion that the likelihood is a sufficient statistic, a point that still bothers me. (On the side, I realised while reading Confidence, &tc., that ABC cannot comply with the likelihood principle.) To end up on a French nitpicking note (!), Quenouille is typ(o)ed Quenoille in the main text, the references and the index. (Blame the .bib file!)

## precisely!

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags Donald Trump, immigration, Norway, Stephen King, Trondheim, twitter, USA on January 12, 2018 by xi'an## a new paradigm for improper priors

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags Alfréd Rényi, Andrei Kolmogorov, axioms of probability, convergence of Gibbs samplers, improper priors, σ-algebra, marginalisation paradoxes, Norway, Trondheim on November 6, 2017 by xi'an**G**unnar Taraldsen and co-authors have arXived a short note on using improper priors from a new perspective. Generalising an earlier 2016 paper in JSPI on the same topic. Which both relate to a concept introduced by Rényi (who himself attributes the idea to Kolmogorov). Namely that random variables measures are to be associated with arbitrary measures [not necessarily σ-finite measures, the later defining σ-finite random variables], rather than those with total mass one. Which allows for an alternate notion of conditional probability in the case of σ-finite random variables, with the perk that this conditional probability distribution is itself of mass 1 (a.e.). Which we know happens when moving from prior to proper posterior.

I remain puzzled by the 2016 paper though as I do not follow the meaning of a *random variable* associated with an *infinite mass probability measure*. If the point is limited to construct posterior probability distributions associated with improper priors, there is little value in doing so. The argument in the 2016 paper is however that one can then define a conditional distribution in marginalisation paradoxes à la Stone, Dawid and Zidek (1973) where the marginal does not exist. Solving with this formalism the said marginalisation paradoxes as conditional distributions are only defined for σ-finite random variables. Which gives a fairly different conclusion from either Stone, Dawid and Zidek (1973) [with whom I agree, namely that there is no paradox because there is no “joint” distribution] or Jaynes (1973) [with whom I less agree!, in that the use of an invariant measure to make the discrepancy go away is not a particularly strong argument in favour of this measure]. The 2016 paper also draws an interesting connection with the study by Jim Hobert and George Casella (in Jim’s thesis) of [null recurrent or transient] Gibbs samplers with no joint [proper] distribution. Which in some situations can produce proper subchains, a phenomenon later exhibited by Alan Gelfand and Sujit Sahu (and Xiao-Li Meng as well if I correctly remember!). But I see no advantage in following this formalism, as it does not impact whether the chain is transient or null recurrent, or anything connected with its implementation. Plus a link to the approximation of improper priors by sequences of proper ones by Bioche and Druihlet I discussed a while ago.