Richard Everitt and co-authors have arXived a preliminary version of a paper entitled Sequential Bayesian inference for mixture models and the coalescent using sequential Monte Carlo samplers with transformations. The central notion is an SMC version of the Carlin & Chib (1995) completion in the comparison of models in different dimensions. Namely to create auxiliary variables for each model in such a way that the dimension of the completed models are all the same. (Reversible jump MCMC à la Peter Green (1995) can also be interpreted this way, even though only relevant bits of the completion are used in the transitions.) I find the paper and the topic most interesting if only because it relates to earlier papers of us on population Monte Carlo. It also brought to my awareness the paper by Karagiannis and Andrieu (2013) on annealed reversible jump MCMC that I had missed at the time it appeared. The current paper exploits this annealed expansion in the devising of the moves. (Sequential Monte Carlo on a sequence of models with increasing dimension has been studied in the past.)
The way the SMC is described in the paper, namely, reweight-subsample-move, does not strike me as the most efficient as I would try to instead move-reweight-subsample, using a relevant move that incorporate the new model and hence enhance the chances of not rejecting.
One central application of the paper is mixture models with an unknown number of components. The SMC approach applied to this problem means creating a new component at each iteration t and moving the existing particles after adding the parameters of the new component. Since using the prior for this new part is unlikely to be at all efficient, a split move as in Richardson and Green (1997) can be considered, which brings back the dreaded Jacobian of RJMCMC into the picture! Here comes an interesting caveat of the method, namely that the split move forces a choice of the split component of the mixture. However, this does not appear as a strong difficulty, solved in the paper by auxiliary [index] variables, but possibly better solved by a mixture representation of the proposal, as in our PMC [population Monte Carlo] papers. Which also develop a family of SMC algorithms, incidentally. We found there that using a mixture representation of the proposal achieves a provable variance reduction.
“This puts a requirement on TSMC that the single transition it makes must be successful.”
As pointed by the authors, the transformation SMC they develop faces the drawback that a given model is only explored once in the algorithm, when moving to the next model. On principle, there would be nothing wrong in including regret steps, retracing earlier models in the light of the current one, since each step is an importance sampling step valid on its own right. But SMC also offers a natural albeit potentially high-varianced approximation to the marginal likelihood, which is quite appealing when comparing with an MCMC outcome. However, it would have been nice to see a comparison with alternative estimates of the marginal in the case of mixtures of distributions. I also wonder at the comparative performances of a dual approach that would be sequential in the number of observations as well, as in Chopin (2004) or our first population Monte Carlo paper (Cappé et al., 2005), since subsamples lead to tempered versions of the target and hence facilitate moves between models, being associated with flatter likelihoods.