Archive for random forests

The Effect [book review]

Posted in Books, R, Running, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2023 by xi'an

While it sounds like the title of a science-fiction catastrophe novel or of a (of course) convoluted nouveau roman, this book by Nick Huntington-Klein is a massive initiation to econometrics and causality. As explained by the subtitle, An Introduction to Research Design and Causality.

This is a hüûüge book, actually made of two parts that could have been books (volumes?). And covering three langages, R, Stata, and Python, which should have led to three independent books. (Seriously, why print three versions when you need at best one?!)  I carried it with me during my vacations in Central Québec, but managed to loose my notes on the first part, which means missing the opportunity for biased quotes! It was mostly written during the COVID lockdown(s), which may explain for a certain amount of verbosity and rambling around.

“My mom loved the first part of the book and she is allergic to statistics.”

The first half (which is in fact a third!) is conceptual (and chatty) and almost formula free, based on the postulate that “it’s a pretty slim portion of students who understand a method because of an equation” (p.xxii). For this reader (or rather reviewer) and on explanations through example, it makes the reading much harder as spotting the main point gets harder (and requires reading most sentences!). And a very slow start since notations and mathematical notions have to be introduced with an excess of caution (as in the distinction between Latin and Greek symbols, p.36). Moving through single variable models, conditional distributions, with a lengthy explanation of how OLS are derived, data generating process and identification (of causes), causal diagrams, back and front doors (a recurrent notion within the book),  treatment effects and a conclusion chapter.

“Unlike statistical research, which is completely made of things that are at least slightly false, statistics itself is almost entirely true.” (p.327)

The second part, called the Toolbox, is closer to a classical introduction to econometrics, albeit with a shortage of mathematics (and no proof whatsoever), although [warning!] logarithms, polynomials, partial derivatives and matrices are used. Along with a consequent (3x) chunk allocated to printed codes, the density of the footnotes significantly increases in this section. It covers an extensive chapter on regression (including testing practice, non-linear and generalised linear models, as well as basic bootstrap without much warning about its use in… regression settings, and LASSO),  one on matching (with propensity scores, kernel weighting, Mahalanobis weighting, one on  simulation, yes simulation! in the sense of producing pseudo-data from known generating processes to check methods, as well as bootstrap (with resampling residuals making at last an appearance!), fixed and random effects (where the author “feels the presence of Andrew Gelman reaching through time and space to disagree”, p.405). The chapter on event studies is about time dependent data with a bit of ARIMA prediction (but nothing on non-stationary series and unit root issues). The more exotic chapters cover (18) difference-in-differences models (control vs treated groups, with John Snow pumping his way in), (19) instrumental variables (aka the minor bane of my 1980’s econometrics courses), with double least squares and generalised methods of moments (if not the simulated version), (20) discontinuity (i.e., changepoints), with the limitation of having a single variate explaining the change, rather than an unknown combination of them, and a rather pedestrian approach to the issue, (iv) other methods (including the first mention of machine learning regression/prediction and some causal forests), concluding with an “Under the rug” portmanteau.

Nothing (afaict) on multivariate regressed variates and simultaneous equations. Hardly an occurrence of Bayesian modelling (p.581), vague enough to remind me of my first course of statistics and the one-line annihilation of the notion.

Duh cover, but nice edition, except for the huge margins that could have been cut to reduce the 622 pages by a third (and harnessed the tendency of the author towards excessive footnotes!). And an unintentional white line on p.238! Cute and vaguely connected little drawings at the head of every chapter (like the head above). A rather terse matter index (except for the entry “The first reader to spot this wins ten bucks“!), which should have been completed with an acronym index.

“Calculus-heads will recognize all of this as taking integrals of the density curve. Did you know there’s calculus hidden inside statistics? The things your professor won’t tell you until it’s too late to drop the class.

Obviously I am biased in that I cannot negatively comment on an author running 5:37 a mile as, by now, I could just compete far from the 5:15 of yester decades! I am just a wee bit suspicious at the reported time, however, given that it happens exactly on page 537… (And I could have clearly taken issue with his 2014 paper, Is Robert anti-teacher? Or with the populist catering to anti-math attitudes as the above found in a footnote!) But I enjoyed reading the conceptual chapter on causality as well as the (more) technical chapter on instrumental variables (a notion I have consistently found confusing all the [long] way from graduate school). And while repeated references are made to Scott Cunningham’s Causal Inference: The Mixtape I think I will stop there with 500⁺ page introductory econometrics books!

[Disclaimer about potential self-plagiarism: this post or an edited version will potentially appear in my Books Review section in CHANCE.]

brain pickin’

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2022 by xi'an

day two at ISBA 22

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2022 by xi'an

Still woke up early too early, which let me go for a long run in Mont Royal (which felt almost immediately familiar from earlier runs at MCM 2017!) at dawn and at a pleasant temperature (but missed the top bagel bakery on the way back!). Skipped the morning plenary lectures to complete recommendation letters and finishing a paper submission. But had a terrific lunch with a good friend I had not seen in Covid-times, at a local branch of Kinton Ramen which I already enjoyed in Vancouver as my Airbnb was located on top of it.

I chaired the afternoon Bayesian computations session with Onur Teymur presenting the general spirit of his Neurips 21 paper on black box probabilistic numerics. Mentioning that a new textbook on the topic by Phillip Henning, Michael Osborne, and Hans Kersting had appeared today! The second talk was by Laura Bondi who discussed an ABC model choice approach to assess breast cancer screening. With enough missing data (out of 78051 women followed over 12 years) to lead to an intractable likelihood. Starting with vanilla ABC using 32 summaries and moving to our random forest approach. Unsurprisingly concluding with different top models, but not characterising the identifiability provided by the choice of the summaries. The third talk was by Ryan Chan (fresh Warwick PhD recipient), about a Fusion divide-and-conquer approach that avoids the approximation of earlier approaches. In particular he uses a clever accept-reject algorithm to generate a product of densities using the component densities. A nice trick that Murray explained to me while visiting in Paris lg ast month. (The approach appears to be parameterisation dependent.) The final talk was by Umberto Picchini and in a sort the synthetic likelihood mirror of Massi’s talk yesterday, in the sense of constructing a guided proposal relying on observed summaries. If not comparing both approaches on a given toy like the g-and-k distribution.

finding our way in the dark

Posted in Statistics, Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2021 by xi'an

The paper Finding our Way in the Dark: Approximate MCMC for Approximate Bayesian Methods by Evgeny Levi and (my friend) Radu Craiu, recently got published in Bayesian Analysis. The central motivation for their work is that both ABC and synthetic likelihood are costly methods when the data is large and does not allow for smaller summaries. That is, when summaries S of smaller dimension cannot be directly simulated. The idea is to try to estimate


since this is the substitute for the likelihood used for ABC. (A related idea is to build an approximate and conditional [on θ] distribution on the distance, idea with which Doc. Stoehr and I played a wee bit without getting anything definitely interesting!) This is a one-dimensional object, hence non-parametric estimates could be considered… For instance using k-nearest neighbour methods (which were already linked with ABC by Gérard Biau and co-authors.) A random forest could also be used (?). Or neural nets. The method still requires a full simulation of new datasets, so I wonder at the gain unless the replacement of the naïve indicator with h(θ) brings clear improvement to the approximation. Hence much fewer simulations. The ESS reduction is definitely improved, esp. since the CPU cost is higher. Could this be associated with the recourse to independent proposals?

In a sence, Bayesian synthetic likelihood does not convey the same appeal, since is a bit more of a tough cookie: approximating the mean and variance is multidimensional. (BSL is always more expensive!)

As a side remark, the authors use two chains in parallel to simplify convergence proofs, as we did a while ago with AMIS!

the new DIYABC-RF

Posted in Books, pictures, R, Statistics, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2021 by xi'an

My friends and co-authors from Montpellier have released last month the third version of the DIYABC software, DIYABC-RF, which includes and promotes the use of random forests for parameter inference and model selection, in connection with Louis Raynal’s thesis. Intended as the earlier versions of DIYABC for population genetic applications. Bienvenue!!!

The software DIYABC Random Forest (hereafter DIYABC-RF) v1.0 is composed of three parts: the dataset simulator, the Random Forest inference engine and the graphical user interface. The whole is packaged as a standalone and user-friendly graphical application named DIYABC-RF GUI and available at The different developer and user manuals for each component of the software are available on the same website. DIYABC-RF is a multithreaded software on three operating systems: GNU/Linux, Microsoft Windows and MacOS. One can use the program can be used through a modern and user-friendly graphical interface designed as an R shiny application (Chang et al. 2019). For a fluid and simplified user experience, this interface is available through a standalone application, which does not require installing R or any dependencies and hence can be used independently. The application is also implemented in an R package providing a standard shiny web application (with the same graphical interface) that can be run locally as any shiny application, or hosted as a web service to provide a DIYABC-RF server for multiple users.

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