Archive for phylogenetic model

The synoptic problem and statistics [book review]

Posted in Books, R, Statistics, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2015 by xi'an

A book that came to me for review in CHANCE and that came completely unannounced is Andris Abakuks’ The Synoptic Problem and Statistics.  “Unannounced” in that I had not heard so far of the synoptic problem. This problem is one of ordering and connecting the gospels in the New Testament, more precisely the “synoptic” gospels attributed to Mark, Matthew and Luke, since the fourth canonical gospel of John is considered by experts to be posterior to those three. By considering overlaps between those texts, some statistical inference can be conducted and the book covers (some of?) those statistical analyses for different orderings of ancestry in authorship. My overall reaction after a quick perusal of the book over breakfast (sharing bread and fish, of course!) was to wonder why there was no mention made of a more global if potentially impossible approach via a phylogeny tree considering the three (or more) gospels as current observations and tracing their unknown ancestry back just as in population genetics. Not because ABC could then be brought into the picture. Rather because it sounds to me (and to my complete lack of expertise in this field!) more realistic to postulate that those gospels were not written by a single person. Or at a single period in time. But rather that they evolve like genetic mutations across copies and transmission until they got a sort of official status.

“Given the notorious intractability of the synoptic problem and the number of different models that are still being advocated, none of them without its deficiencies in explaining the relationships between the synoptic gospels, it should not be surprising that we are unable to come up with more definitive conclusions.” (p.181)

The book by Abakuks goes instead through several modelling directions, from logistic regression using variable length Markov chains [to predict agreement between two of the three texts by regressing on earlier agreement] to hidden Markov models [representing, e.g., Matthew’s use of Mark], to various independence tests on contingency tables, sometimes bringing into the model an extra source denoted by Q. Including some R code for hidden Markov models. Once again, from my outsider viewpoint, this fragmented approach to the problem sounds problematic and inconclusive. And rather verbose in extensive discussions of descriptive statistics. Not that I was expecting a sudden Monty Python-like ray of light and booming voice to disclose the truth! Or that I crave for more p-values (some may be found hiding within the book). But I still wonder about the phylogeny… Especially since phylogenies are used in text authentication as pointed out to me by Robin Ryder for Chauncer’s Canterbury Tales.

all models are wrong

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on September 27, 2014 by xi'an

“Using ABC to evaluate competing models has various hazards and comes with recommended precautions (Robert et al. 2011), and unsurprisingly, many if not most researchers have a healthy scepticism as these tools continue to mature.”

Michael Hickerson just published an open-access letter with the above title in Molecular Ecology. (As in several earlier papers, incl. the (in)famous ones by Templeton, Hickerson confuses running an ABC algorithm with conducting Bayesian model comparison, but this is not the main point of this post.)

“Rather than using ABC with weighted model averaging to obtain the three corresponding posterior model probabilities while allowing for the handful of model parameters (θ, τ, γ, Μ) to be estimated under each model conditioned on each model’s posterior probability, these three models are sliced up into 143 ‘submodels’ according to various parameter ranges.”

The letter is in fact a supporting argument for the earlier paper of Pelletier and Carstens (2014, Molecular Ecology) which conducted the above splitting experiment. I could not read this paper so cannot judge of the relevance of splitting this way the parameter range. From what I understand it amounts to using mutually exclusive priors by using different supports.

“Specifically, they demonstrate that as greater numbers of the 143 sub-models are evaluated, the inference from their ABC model choice procedure becomes increasingly.”

An interestingly cut sentence. Increasingly unreliable? mediocre? weak?

“…with greater numbers of models being compared, the most probable models are assigned diminishing levels of posterior probability. This is an expected result…”

True, if the number of models under consideration increases, under a uniform prior over model indices, the posterior probability of a given model mechanically decreases. But the pairwise Bayes factors should not be impacted by the number of models under comparison and the letter by Hickerson states that Pelletier and Carstens found the opposite:

“…pairwise Bayes factor[s] will always be more conservative except in cases when the posterior probabilities are equal for all models that are less probable than the most probable model.”

Which means that the “Bayes factor” in this study is computed as the ratio of a marginal likelihood and of a compound (or super-marginal) likelihood, averaged over all models and hence incorporating the prior probabilities of the model indices as well. I had never encountered such a proposal before. Contrary to the letter’s claim:

“…using the Bayes factor, incorporating all models is perhaps more consistent with the Bayesian approach of incorporating all uncertainty associated with the ABC model choice procedure.”

Besides the needless inclusion of ABC in this sentence, a somewhat confusing sentence, as Bayes factors are not, stricto sensu, Bayesian procedures since they remove the prior probabilities from the picture.

“Although the outcome of model comparison with ABC or other similar likelihood-based methods will always be dependent on the composition of the model set, and parameter estimates will only be as good as the models that are used, model-based inference provides a number of benefits.”

All models are wrong but the very fact that they are models allows for producing pseudo-data from those models and for checking if the pseudo-data is similar enough to the observed data. In components that matters the most for the experimenter. Hence a loss function of sorts…

a phylogenetic intermezzo

Posted in Books, Kids, University life with tags , , , , on May 26, 2013 by xi'an


Big’MC seminar

Posted in R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , on January 30, 2010 by xi'an

Two very interesting talks at the Big’ MC seminar on Thursday:

Phylogenetic models and MCMC methods for the reconstruction of language history by Robin Ryder

Uniform and non-uniform random generators by Régis Lebrun

which are both on topics close to my interest, evolution of languages (I’ll be a philologist in another life!) and uniform random generators.


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