## mixtures are slices of an orange

Posted in Kids, R, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2016 by xi'an

After presenting this work in both London and Lenzerheide, Kaniav Kamary, Kate Lee and I arXived and submitted our paper on a new parametrisation of location-scale mixtures. Although it took a long while to finalise the paper, given that we came with the original and central idea about a year ago, I remain quite excited by this new representation of mixtures, because the use of a global location-scale (hyper-)parameter doubling as the mean-standard deviation for the mixture itself implies that all the other parameters of this mixture model [beside the weights] belong to the intersection of a unit hypersphere with an hyperplane. [Hence the title above I regretted not using for the poster at MCMskv!]This realisation that using a (meaningful) hyperparameter (μ,σ) leads to a compact parameter space for the component parameters is important for inference in such mixture models in that the hyperparameter (μ,σ) is easily estimated from the entire sample, while the other parameters can be studied using a non-informative prior like the Uniform prior on the ensuing compact space. This non-informative prior for mixtures is something I have been seeking for many years, hence my on-going excitement! In the mid-1990‘s, we looked at a Russian doll type parametrisation with Kerrie Mengersen that used the “first” component as defining the location-scale reference for the entire mixture. And expressing each new component as a local perturbation of the previous one. While this is a similar idea than the current one, it falls short of leading to a natural non-informative prior, forcing us to devise a proper prior on the variance that was a mixture of a Uniform U(0,1) and of an inverse Uniform 1/U(0,1). Because of the lack of compactness of the parameter space. Here, fixing both mean and variance (or even just the variance) binds the mixture parameter to an ellipse conditional on the weights. A space that can be turned into the unit sphere via a natural reparameterisation. Furthermore, the intersection with the hyperplane leads to a closed form spherical reparameterisation. Yay!

While I do not wish to get into the debate about the [non-]existence of “non-informative” priors at this stage, I think being able to using the invariant reference prior π(μ,σ)=1/σ is quite neat here because the inference on the mixture parameters should be location and scale equivariant. The choice of the prior on the remaining parameters is of lesser importance, the Uniform over the compact being one example, although we did not study in depth this impact, being satisfied with the outputs produced from the default (Uniform) choice.

From a computational perspective, the new parametrisation can be easily turned into the old parametrisation, hence leads to a closed-form likelihood. This implies a Metropolis-within-Gibbs strategy can be easily implemented, as we did in the derived Ultimixt R package. (Which programming I was not involved in, solely suggesting the name Ultimixt from ultimate mixture parametrisation, a former title that we eventually dropped off for the paper.)

Discussing the paper at MCMskv was very helpful in that I got very positive feedback about the approach and superior arguments to justify the approach and its appeal. And to think about several extensions outside location scale families, if not in higher dimensions which remain a practical challenge (in the sense of designing a parametrisation of the covariance matrices in terms of the global covariance matrix).

## MCMskv #3 [town with a view]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2016 by xi'an

Third day at MCMskv, where I took advantage of the gap left by the elimination of the Tweedie Race [second time in a row!] to complete and submit our mixture paper. Despite the nice weather. The rest of the day was quite busy with David Dunson giving a plenary talk on various approaches to approximate MCMC solutions, with a broad overview of the potential methods and of the need for better solutions. (On a personal basis, great line from David: “five minutes or four minutes?”. It almost beat David’s question on the previous day, about the weight of a finch that sounded suspiciously close to the question about the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow. I was quite surprised the speaker did not reply with the Arthurian “An African or an European finch?”) In particular, I appreciated the notion that some problems were calling for a reduction in the number of parameters, rather than the number of observations. At which point I wrote down “multiscale approximations required” in my black pad,  a requirement David made a few minutes later. (The talk conditions were also much better than during Michael’s talk, in that the man standing between the screen and myself was David rather than the cameraman! Joke apart, it did not really prevent me from reading them, except for most of the jokes in small prints!)

The first session of the morning involved a talk by Marc Suchard, who used continued fractions to find a closed form likelihood for the SIR epidemiology model (I love continued fractions!), and a talk by Donatello Telesca who studied non-local priors to build a regression tree. While I am somewhat skeptical about non-local testing priors, I found this approach to the construction of a tree quite interesting! In the afternoon, I obviously went to the intractable likelihood session, with talks by Chris Oates on a control variate method for doubly intractable models, Brenda Vo on mixing sequential ABC with Bayesian bootstrap, and Gael Martin on our consistency paper. I was not aware of the Bayesian bootstrap proposal and need to read through the paper, as I fail to see the appeal of the bootstrap part! I later attended a session on exact Monte Carlo methods that was pleasantly homogeneous. With talks by Paul Jenkins (Warwick) on the exact simulation of the Wright-Fisher diffusion, Anthony Lee (Warwick) on designing perfect samplers for chains with atoms, Chang-han Rhee and Sebastian Vollmer on extensions of the Glynn-Rhee debiasing technique I previously discussed on the blog. (Once again, I regretted having to make a choice between the parallel sessions!)

The poster session (after a quick home-made pasta dish with an exceptional Valpolicella!) was almost universally great and with just the right number of posters to go around all of them in the allotted time. With in particular the Breaking News! posters of Giacomo Zanella (Warwick), Beka Steorts and Alexander Terenin. A high quality session that made me regret not touring the previous one due to my own poster presentation.

## MCMskv #2 [ridge with a view]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, R, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2016 by xi'an

Tuesday at MCMSkv was a rather tense day for me, from having to plan the whole day “away from home” [8km away] to the mundane worry of renting ski equipment and getting to the ski runs over the noon break, to giving a poster over our new mixture paper with Kaniav Kamary and Kate Lee, as Kaniav could not get a visa in time. It actually worked out quite nicely, with almost Swiss efficiency. After Michael Jordan’s talk, I attended a Bayesian molecular biology session with an impressive talk by Jukka Corander on evolutionary genomics with novel ABC aspects. And then a Hamiltonian Monte Carlo session with two deep talks by Sam Livingstone and Elena Akhmatskaya on the convergence of HMC, followed by an amazing entry into Bayesian cosmology by Jens Jasche (with a slight drawback that MCMC simulations took about a calendar year, handling over 10⁷ parameters). Finishing the day with more “classical” MCMC convergence results and techniques, with talks about forgetting time, stopping time (an undervalued alternative to convergence controls), and CLTs. Including a multivariate ESS by James Flegal. (This choice of sessions was uniformly frustrating as I was also equally interested in “the other” session. The drawback of running parallel sessions, obviously.)

The poster session was busy and animated, but I alas could not get an idea of the other posters as I was presenting mine. This was quite exciting as I discussed a new parametrisation for location-scale mixture models that allows for a rather straightforward “non-informative” or reference prior. (The paper with Kaniav Kamary and Kate Lee should be arXived overnight!) The recently deposited CRAN package Ultimixt by Kaniav and Kate contains Metropolis-Hastings functions related to this new approach. The result is quite exciting, especially because I have been looking for it for decades and I will discuss it pretty soon in another post, and I had great exchanges with the conference participants, which led me to consider the reparametrisation in a larger scale and to simplify the presentation of the approach, turning the global mean and variance as hyperparameters.

The day was also most auspicious for a ski break as it was very mild and sunny, while the snow conditions were (somewhat) better than the ones we had in the French Alps two weeks ago. (Too bad that the Tweedie ski race had to be cancelled for lack of snow on the reserved run! The Blossom ski reward will have again to be randomly allocated!) Just not exciting enough to consider another afternoon out, given the tension in getting there and back. (And especially when considering that it took me the entire break time to arXive our mixture paper…)

## MCMskv, Lenzerheide, 4-7 Jan., 2016 [breaking news #6]

Posted in Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2015 by xi'an

As indicated in an earlier MCMskv news, the scientific committee kept a session open for Breaking news! proposals, in conjunction with poster submissions. We received 21 proposals and managed to squeeze 12 fifteen minute presentations in an already tight program. (I advise all participants to take a relaxing New Year break and to load in vitamins and such in preparation for a 24/7 or rather 24/3 relentless and X’citing conference!) Here are the selected presentations, with (some links to my posts on the related papers and) abstracts available on the conference website. Note to all participants that there are still a few days left for submitting posters!

Luke Bornn

Jon Cockayne

Gersende Fort

Michael Gutmann

James Johndrow

Jean-Michel Marin

Murray Pollock

Maxim Rabinovich

Rebecca Steorts

Alexander Terenin

Yazhen Wang

Giacomo Zanella

## Oxford snapshot

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , on April 28, 2015 by xi'an

## ABC à Montréal

Posted in Kids, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2014 by xi'an

So today was the NIPS 2014 workshop, “ABC in Montréal“, which started with a fantastic talk by Juliane Liepe on some exciting applications of ABC to the migration of immune cells, with the analysis of movies involving those cells acting to heal a damaged fly wing and a cut fish tail. Quite amazing videos, really. (With the great entry line of ‘We have all cut  a finger at some point in our lives’!) The statistical model behind those movies was a random walk on a grid, with different drift and bias features that served as model characteristics. Frank Wood managed to deliver his talk despite a severe case of food poisoning, with a great illustration of probabilistic programming that made me understand (at last!) the very idea of probabilistic programming. And  Vikash Mansinghka presented some applications in image analysis. Those two talks led me to realise why probabilistic programming was so close to ABC, with a programming touch! Hence why I was invited to talk today! Then Dennis Prangle exposed his latest version of lazy ABC, that I have already commented on the ‘Og, somewhat connected with our delayed acceptance algorithm, to the point that maybe something common can stem out of the two notions. Michael Blum ended the day with provocative answers to the provocative question of Ted Meeds as to whether or not machine learning needed ABC (Ans. No!) and whether or not machine learning could help ABC (Ans. ???). With an happily mix-up between mechanistic and phenomenological models that helped generating discussion from the floor.

The posters were also of much interest, with calibration as a distance measure by Michael Guttman, in continuation of the poster he gave at MCMski, Aaron Smith presenting his work with Luke Bornn, Natesh Pillai and Dawn Woodard, on why a single pseudo-sample is enough for ABC efficiency. This gave me the opportunity to discuss with him the apparent contradiction with the result of Kryz Łatunsziński and Anthony Lee about the geometric convergence of ABC-MCMC only attained with a random number of pseudo-samples… And to wonder if there is a geometric versus binomial dilemma in this setting, Namely, whether or not simulating pseudo-samples until one is accepted would be more efficient than just running one and discarding it in case it is too far. So, although the audience was not that large (when compared with the other “ABC in…” and when considering the 2500+ attendees at NIPS over the week!), it was a great day where I learned a lot, did not have a doze during talks (!), [and even had an epiphany of sorts at the treadmill when I realised I just had to take longer steps to reach 16km/h without hyperventilating!] So thanks to my fellow organisers, Neil D Lawrence, Ted Meeds, Max Welling, and Richard Wilkinson for setting the program of that day! And, by the way, where’s the next “ABC in…”?! (Finland, maybe?)

## Cancún, ISBA 2014 [day #1]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on July 18, 2014 by xi'an

The first full day of talks at ISBA 2014, Cancún, was full of goodies, from the three early talks on specifically developed software, including one by Daniel Lee on STAN that completed the one given by Bob Carpenter a few weeks ago in Paris (which gives me the opportunity to advertise STAN tee-shirts!). To the poster session (which just started a wee bit late for my conference sleep pattern!). Sylvia Richardson gave an impressive lecture full of information on Bayesian genomics. I also enjoyed very much two sessions with young Bayesian statisticians, one on Bayesian econometrics and the other one more diverse and sponsored by ISBA. Overall, and this also applies to the programme of the following days, I found that the proportion of non-parametric talks was quite high this year, possibly signalling a switch in the community and the interest of Bayesians. And conversely very few talks on computing related issues. (With most scheduled after my early departure…)

In the first of those sessions, Brendan Kline talked about partially identified parameters, a topic quite close to my interests, although I did not buy the overall modelling adopted in the analysis. For instance, Brendan Kline presented the example of a parameter θ that is the expectation of a random variable Y which is indirectly observed through x <Y< x̅ . While he maintained that inference should be restricted to an interval around θ and that using a prior on θ was doomed to fail (and against econometrics culture), I would have prefered to see this example as a missing data one, with both x and x̅ containing information about θ. And somewhat object to the argument against the prior as it would equally apply to any prior modelling. Although unrelated in the themes, Angela Bitto presented a work on the impact of different prior modellings on the estimation of time-varying parameters in time-series models. À la Harrison and West 1994 Discriminating between good and poor shrinkage in a way I could not spot. Unless it was based on the data fit (horror!). And a third talk of interest by Andriy Norets that (very loosely) related to Angela’s talk by presenting a framework to modify credible sets towards frequentist properties: one example was the credible interval on a positive normal mean that led to a frequency-valid confidence interval with a modified prior. This reminded me very much of the shrinkage confidence intervals of the James-Stein era.