## general perspective on the Metropolis–Hastings kernel

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2021 by xi'an

[My Bristol friends and co-authors] Christophe Andrieu, and Anthony Lee, along with Sam Livingstone arXived a massive paper on 01 January on the Metropolis-Hastings kernel.

“Our aim is to develop a framework making establishing correctness of complex Markov chain Monte Carlo kernels a purely mechanical or algebraic exercise, while making communication of ideas simpler and unambiguous by allowing a stronger focus on essential features (…) This framework can also be used to validate kernels that do not satisfy detailed balance, i.e. which are not reversible, but a modified version thereof.”

A central notion in this highly general framework is, extending Tierney (1998), to see an MCMC kernel as a triplet involving a probability measure μ (on an extended space), an involution transform φ generalising the proposal step (i.e. þ²=id), and an associated acceptance probability ð. Then μ-reversibility occurs for

$\eth(\xi)\mu(\text{d}\xi)= \eth(\phi(\xi))\mu^{\phi}(\text{d}\xi)$

with the rhs involving the push-forward measure induced by μ and φ. And furthermore there is always a choice of an acceptance probability ð ensuring for this equality to happen. Interestingly, the new framework allows for mostly seamless handling of more complex versions of MCMC such as reversible jump and parallel tempering. But also non-reversible kernels, incl. for instance delayed rejection. And HMC, incl. NUTS. And pseudo-marginal, multiple-try, PDMPs, &c., &c. it is remarkable to see such a general theory emerging a this (late?) stage of the evolution of the field (and I will need more time and attention to understand its consequences).

## the surprisingly overlooked efficiency of SMC

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2020 by xi'an

At the Laplace demon’s seminar today (whose cool name I cannot tire of!), Nicolas Chopin gave a webinar with the above equally cool title. And the first slide debunking myths about SMC’s:

The second part of the talk is about a recent arXival Nicolas wrote with his student Hai-Dang DauI missed, about increasing the number of MCMC steps when moving the particles. Called waste-free SMC. Where only one fraction of the particles is updated, but this is enough to create a sort of independence from previous iterations of the SMC. (Hai-Dang Dau and Nicolas Chopin had to taylor their own convergence proof for this modification of the usual SMC. Producing a single-run assessment of the asymptotic variance.)

On the side, I heard about a very neat (if possibly toyish) example on estimating the number of Latin squares:

And the other item of information is that Nicolas’ and Omiros’ book, An Introduction to Sequential Monte Carlo, has now appeared! (Looking forward reading the parts I had not yet read.)

## dynamic nested sampling for stars

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2019 by xi'an

In the sequel of earlier nested sampling packages, like MultiNest, Joshua Speagle has written a new package called dynesty that manages dynamic nested sampling, primarily intended for astronomical applications. Which is the field where nested sampling is the most popular. One of the first remarks in the paper is that nested sampling can be more easily implemented by using a Uniform reparameterisation of the prior, that is, a reparameterisation that turns the prior into a Uniform over the unit hypercube. Which means in fine that the prior distribution can be generated from a fixed vector of uniforms and known transforms. Maybe not such an issue given that this is the prior after all.  The author considers this makes sampling under the likelihood constraint a much simpler problem but it all depends in the end on the concentration of the likelihood within the unit hypercube. And on the ability to reach the higher likelihood slices. I did not see any special trick when looking at the documentation, but reflected on the fundamental connection between nested sampling and this ability. As in the original proposal by John Skilling (2006), the slice volumes are “estimated” by simulated Beta order statistics, with no connection with the actual sequence of simulation or the problem at hand. We did point out our incomprehension for such a scheme in our Biometrika paper with Nicolas Chopin. As in earlier versions, the algorithm attempts at visualising the slices by different bounding techniques, before proceeding to explore the bounded regions by several exploration algorithms, including HMC.

“As with any sampling method, we strongly advocate that Nested Sampling should not be viewed as being strictly“better” or “worse” than MCMC, but rather as a tool that can be more or less useful in certain problems. There is no “One True Method to Rule Them All”, even though it can be tempting to look for one.”

When introducing the dynamic version, the author lists three drawbacks for the static (original) version. One is the reliance on this transform of a Uniform vector over an hypercube. Another one is that the overall runtime is highly sensitive to the choice the prior. (If simulating from the prior rather than an importance function, as suggested in our paper.) A third one is the issue that nested sampling is impervious to the final goal, evidence approximation versus posterior simulation, i.e., uses a constant rate of prior integration. The dynamic version simply modifies the number of point simulated in each slice. According to the (relative) increase in evidence provided by the current slice, estimated through iterations. This makes nested sampling a sort of inversted Wang-Landau since it sharpens the difference between slices. (The dynamic aspects for estimating the volumes of the slices and the stopping rule may hinder convergence in unclear ways, which is not discussed by the paper.) Among the many examples produced in the paper, a 200 dimension Normal target, which is an interesting object for posterior simulation in that most of the posterior mass rests on a ring away from the maximum of the likelihood. But does not seem to merit a mention in the discussion. Another example of heterogeneous regression favourably compares dynesty with MCMC in terms of ESS (but fails to include an HMC version).

[Breaking News: Although I wrote this post before the exciting first image of the black hole in M87 was made public and hence before I was aware of it, the associated AJL paper points out relying on dynesty for comparing several physical models of the phenomenon by nested sampling.]

## revised empirical HMC

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2019 by xi'an

Following the informed and helpful comments from Matt Graham and Bob Carpenter on our eHMC paper [arXival] last month, we produced a revised and re-arXived version of the paper based on new experiments ran by Changye Wu and Julien Stoehr. Here are some quick replies to these comments, reproduced for convenience. (Warning: this is a loooong post, much longer than usual.) Continue reading

## faster HMC [poster at CIRM]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2018 by xi'an