## unbalanced sampling

Posted in pictures, R, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on May 17, 2021 by xi'an

A question from X validated on sampling from an unknown density f when given both a sample from the density f restricted to a (known) interval A , say, and a sample from f restricted to the complement of A, say. Or at least on producing an estimate of the mass of A under f, p(A)

The problem sounds impossible to solve without an ability to compute the density value at a given value, since  any convex combination αf¹+(1-α)f² would return the same two samples. Assuming continuity of the density f at the boundary point a between A and its complement, a desperate solution for p(A)/1-p(A) is to take the ratio of the density estimates at the value a, which turns out not so poor an approximation if seemingly biased. This was surprising to me as kernel density estimates are notoriously bad at boundary points.

If f(x) can be computed [up to a constant] at an arbitrary x, it is obviously feasible to simulate from f and approximate p(A). But the problem is then moot as a resolution would not even need the initial samples. If exploiting those to construct a single kernel density estimate, this estimate can be used as a proposal in an MCMC algorithm. Surprisingly (?), using instead the empirical cdf as proposal does not work.

## stratified MCMC

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2020 by xi'an

When working last week with a student, we came across [the slides of a talk at ICERM by Brian van Koten about] a stratified MCMC method whose core idea is to solve a eigenvector equation z’=z’F associated with the masses of “partition” functions Ψ evaluated at the target. (The arXived paper is also available since 2017 but I did not check it in more details.)Although the “partition” functions need to overlap for the matrix not to be diagonal (actually the only case that does not work is when these functions are truly indicator functions). As in other forms of stratified sampling, the practical difficulty is in picking the functions Ψ so that the evaluation of the terms of the matrix F is not overly impacted by the Monte Carlo error. If spending too much time in estimating these terms, there is not a clear gain in switching to stratified sampling, which may be why it is not particularly developed in the MCMC literature….

As an interesting aside, the illustration in this talk comes from the Mexican stamp thickness data I also used in my earlier mixture papers, concerning the 1872 Hidalgo issue that was printed on different qualities of paper. This makes the number k of components somewhat uncertain, although k=3 is sometimes used as a default. Hence a parameter and simulation space of dimension 8, even though the method is used toward approximating the marginal posteriors on the weights λ¹ and λ².

## [more] parallel MCMC

Posted in Books, Mountains with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2014 by xi'an

Scott Schmidler and his Ph.D. student Douglas VanDerwerken have arXived a paper on parallel MCMC the very day I left for Chamonix, prior to MCMSki IV, so it is no wonder I missed it at the time. This work is somewhat in the spirit of the parallel papers Scott et al.’s consensus Bayes,  Neiswanger et al.’s embarrassingly parallel MCMC, Wang and Dunson’s Weierstrassed MCMC (and even White et al.’s parallel ABC), namely that the computation of the likelihood can be broken into batches and MCMC run over those batches independently. In their short survey of previous works on parallelization, VanDerwerken and Schmidler overlooked our neat (!) JCGS Rao-Blackwellisation with Pierre Jacob and Murray Smith, maybe because it sounds more like post-processing than genuine parallelization (in that it does not speed up the convergence of the chain but rather improves the Monte Carlo usages one can make of this chain), maybe because they did not know of it.

“This approach has two shortcomings: first, it requires a number of independent simulations, and thus processors, equal to the size of the partition; this may grow exponentially in dim(Θ). Second, the rejection often needed for the restriction doesn’t permit easy evaluation of transition kernel densities, required below. In addition, estimating the relative weights wi with which they should be combined requires care.” (p.3)

The idea of the authors is to replace an exploration of the whole space operated via a single Markov chain (or by parallel chains acting independently which all have to “converge”) with parallel and independent explorations of parts of the space by separate Markov chains. “Small is beautiful”: it takes a shorter while to explore each set of the partition, hence to converge, and, more importantly, each chain can work in parallel to the others. More specifically, given a partition of the space, into sets Ai with posterior weights wi, parallel chains are associated with targets equal to the original target restricted to those Ai‘s. This is therefore an MCMC version of partitioned sampling. With regard to the shortcomings listed in the quote above, the authors consider that there does not need to be a bijection between the partition sets and the chains, in that a chain can move across partitions and thus contribute to several integral evaluations simultaneously. I am a bit worried about this argument since it amounts to getting a random number of simulations within each partition set Ai. In my (maybe biased) perception of partitioned sampling, this sounds somewhat counter-productive, as it increases the variance of the overall estimator. (Of course, not restricting a chain to a given partition set Ai has the incentive of avoiding a possibly massive amount of rejection steps. It is however unclear (a) whether or not it impacts ergodicity (it all depends on the way the chain is constructed, i.e. against which target(s)…) as it could lead to an over-representation of some boundaries and (b) whether or not it improves the overall convergence properties of the chain(s).)

“The approach presented here represents a solution to this problem which can completely remove the waiting times for crossing between modes, leaving only the relatively short within-mode equilibration times.” (p.4)

A more delicate issue with the partitioned MCMC approach (in my opinion!) stands with the partitioning. Indeed, in a complex and high-dimension model, the construction of the appropriate partition is a challenge in itself as we often have no prior idea where the modal areas are. Waiting for a correct exploration of the modes is indeed faster than waiting for crossing between modes, provided all modes are represented and the chain for each partition set Ai has enough energy to explore this set. It actually sounds (slightly?) unlikely that a target with huge gaps between modes will see a considerable improvement from the partioned version when the partition sets Ai are selected on the go, because some of the boundaries between the partition sets may be hard to reach with a off-the-shelf proposal. (Obviously, the second part of the method on the adaptive construction of partitions is yet in the writing and I am looking forward its aXival!)

Furthermore, as noted by Pierre Jacob (of Statisfaction fame!), the adaptive construction of the partition has a lot in common with Wang-Landau schemes. Which goal is to produce a flat histogram proposal from the current exploration of the state space. Connections with Atchadé’s and Liu’s (2010, Statistical Sinica) extension of the original Wang-Landau algorithm could have been spelled out. Esp. as the Voronoï tessellation construct seems quite innovative in this respect.