Archive for posterior distribution

an introduction to MCMC sampling

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2022 by xi'an

Following a rather clueless question on X validated, I had a quick read of A simple introduction to Markov Chain Monte–Carlo sampling, by Ravenzwaaij, Cassey, and Brown, published in 2018 in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, which I had never opened to this day. The setting is very basic and the authors at pain to make their explanations as simple as possible, but I find the effort somehow backfires under the excess of details. And the characteristic avoidance of mathematical symbols and formulae. For instance, in the Normal mean example that is used as introductory illustration and that confused the question originator, there is no explanation for the posterior being a N(100,15) distribution, 100 being the sample average, the notation N(μ|x,σ) is used for the posterior density, and then the Metropolis comparison brings an added layer of confusion:

“Since the target distribution is normal with mean 100 (the value of the single observation) and standard deviation 15,  this means comparing N(100|108, 15) against N(100|110, 15).”

as it most unfortunately exchanges the positions of  μ and x (which is equal to 100). There is no fundamental error there, due to the symmetry of the Normal density, but this switch from posterior to likelihood certainly contributes to the confusion of the QO. Similarly for the Metropolis step description:

“If the new proposal has a lower posterior value than the most recent sample, then randomly choose to accept or
reject the new proposal, with a probability equal to the height of both posterior values. “

And the shortcomings of MCMC may prove equally difficult to ingest: like
“The method will “work” (i.e., the sampling distribution will truly be the target distribution) as long as certain conditions are met.
Firstly, the likelihood values calculated (…) to accept or reject the new proposal must accurately reflect the density of the proposal in the target distribution. When MCMC is applied to Bayesian inference, this means that the values calculated must be posterior likelihoods, or at least be proportional to the posterior likelihood (i.e., the ratio of the likelihoods calculated relative to one another must be correct).”

which leaves me uncertain as to what the authors do mean by the alternative situation, i.e., by the proposed value not reflecting the proposal density. Again, the reluctance in using (more) formulae hurts the intended pedagogical explanations.

dominating measure

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on March 21, 2019 by xi'an

Yet another question on X validated reminded me of a discussion I had once  with Jay Kadane when visiting Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. Namely the fundamentally ill-posed nature of conjugate priors. Indeed, when considering the definition of a conjugate family as being a parameterised family Þ of distributions over the parameter space Θ stable under transform to the posterior distribution, this property is completely dependent (if there is such a notion as completely dependent!) on the dominating measure adopted on the parameter space Θ. Adopted is the word as there is no default, reference, natural, &tc. measure that promotes one specific measure on Θ as being the dominating measure. This is a well-known difficulty that also sticks out in most “objective Bayes” problems, as well as with maximum entropy priors. This means for instance that, while the Gamma distributions constitute a conjugate family for a Poisson likelihood, so do the truncated Gamma distributions. And so do the distributions which density (against a Lebesgue measure over an arbitrary subset of (0,∞)) is the product of a Gamma density by an arbitrary function of θ. I readily acknowledge that the standard conjugate priors as introduced in every Bayesian textbook are standard because they facilitate (to a certain extent) posterior computations. But, just like there exist an infinity of MaxEnt priors associated with an infinity of dominating measures, there exist an infinity of conjugate families, once more associated with an infinity of dominating measures. And the fundamental reason is that the sampling model (which induces the shape of the conjugate family) does not provide a measure on the parameter space Θ.

Why is it necessary to sample from the posterior distribution if we already KNOW the posterior distribution?

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2017 by xi'an

I found this question on X validated somewhat hilarious, the more because of the shouted KNOW! And the confused impression that because one can write down π(θ|x) up to a constant, one KNOWS this distribution… It is actually one of the paradoxes of simulation that, from a mathematical perspective, once π(θ|x) is available as a function of (θ,x), all other quantities related with this distribution are mathematically perfectly and uniquely defined. From a numerical perspective, this does not help. Actually, when starting my MCMC course at ENSAE a few days later, I had the same question from a student who thought facing a density function like

f(x) ∞ exp{-||x||²-||x||⁴-||x||⁶}

was enough to immediately produce simulations from this distribution. (I also used this example to show the degeneracy of accept-reject as the dimension d of x increases, using for instance a Gamma proposal on y=||x||. The acceptance probability plunges to zero with d, with 9 acceptances out of 10⁷ for d=20.)

efficient acquisition rules for ABC

Posted in pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2017 by xi'an

A few weeks ago, Marko Järvenpää, Michael Gutmann, Aki Vehtari and Pekka Marttinen arXived a paper on sampling design for ABC that reminded me of presentations Michael gave at NIPS 2014 and in Banff last February. The main notion is that, when the simulation from the model is hugely expensive, random sampling does not make sense.

“While probabilistic modelling has been used to accelerate ABC inference, and strategies have been proposed for selecting which parameter to simulate next, little work has focused on trying to quantify the amount of uncertainty in the estimator of the ABC posterior density itself.”

The above question  is obviously interesting, if already considered in the literature for it seems to focus on the Monte Carlo error in ABC, addressed for instance in Fearnhead and Prangle (2012), Li and Fearnhead (2016) and our paper with David Frazier, Gael Martin, and Judith Rousseau. With corresponding conditions on the tolerance and the number of simulations to relegate Monte Carlo error to a secondary level. And the additional remark that the (error free) ABC distribution itself is not the ultimate quantity of interest. Or the equivalent (?) one that ABC is actually an exact Bayesian method on a completed space.

The paper initially confused me for a section on the very general formulation of ABC posterior approximation and error in this approximation. And simulation design for minimising this error. It confused me as it sounded too vague but only for a while as the remaining sections appear to be independent. The operational concept of the paper is to assume that the discrepancy between observed and simulated data, when perceived as a random function of the parameter θ, is a Gaussian process [over the parameter space]. This modelling allows for a prediction of the discrepancy at a new value of θ, which can be chosen as maximising the variance of the likelihood approximation. Or more precisely of the acceptance probability. While the authors report improved estimation of the exact posterior, I find no intuition as to why this should be the case when focussing on the discrepancy, especially because small discrepancies are associated with parameters approximately generated from the posterior.

automated ABC summary combination

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on March 16, 2017 by xi'an

Jonathan Harrison and Ruth Baker (Oxford University) arXived this morning a paper on the optimal combination of summaries for ABC in the sense of deriving the proper weights in an Euclidean distance involving all the available summaries. The idea is to find the weights that lead to the maximal distance between prior and posterior, in a way reminiscent of Bernardo’s (1979) maximal information principle. Plus a sparsity penalty à la Lasso. The associated algorithm is sequential in that the weights are updated at each iteration. The paper does not get into theoretical justifications but considers instead several examples with limited numbers of both parameters and summary statistics. Which may highlight the limitations of the approach in that handling (and eliminating) a large number of parameters may prove impossible this way, when compared with optimisation methods like random forests. Or summary-free distances between empirical distributions like the Wasserstein distance.

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