**T**he recent arXival by Takashi Goda of Computing the variance of a conditional expectation via non-nested Monte Carlo led me to read it as I could not be certain of the contents from only reading the title! The short paper considers the issue of estimating the variance of a conditional expectation when able to simulate the joint distribution behind the quantity of interest. The second moment E(E[f(X)|Y]²) can be written as a triple integral with two versions of x given y and one marginal y, which means that it can approximated in an unbiased manner by simulating a realisation of y then conditionally two realisations of x. The variance requires a third simulation of x, which the author seems to deem too costly and that he hence replaces with another unbiased version based on two conditional generations only. (He notes that a faster biased version is available with bias going down faster than the Monte Carlo error, which makes the alternative somewhat irrelevant, as it is also costly to derive.) An open question after reading the paper stands with the optimal version of the generic estimator (5), although finding the optimum may require more computing time than it is worth spending. Another one is whether or not this version of the expected conditional variance is more interesting (computation-wise) that the difference between the variance and the expected conditional variance as reproduced in (3) given that both quantities can equally be approximated by unbiased Monte Carlo…

## Archive for Rao-Blackwellisation

## Computing the variance of a conditional expectation via non-nested Monte Carlo

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags conditional probability, debiasing, Monte Carlo approximations, Monte Carlo Statistical Methods, Rao-Blackwellisation on May 26, 2016 by xi'an## at CIRM

Posted in Books, Mountains, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life, Wines with tags Cauchy distribution, CIRM, Kelker, Luminy, Marseiile, Paris, Rao-Blackwellisation, Sankhya, slice sampling, spherically symmetric distributions on March 1, 2016 by xi'anThanks to a very early start from Paris, and despite horrendous traffic jams in Marseilles, I managed to reach CIRM with ten minutes to spare before my course. After my one-hour class, I was suddenly made aware of the (simplistic) idea that the slice sampling uniforms are simply auxiliary, meaning they can be used in many different ways.

I noticed Natesh Pillai just arXived an extension of his earlier Cauchy paper with XL. He proves that the result on the Cauchy distribution of any convex combination of normal ratios still holds when the pair of vectors is distributed from a product of elliptically symmetric functions. Some of Natesh’s remarks reminded me of the 1970 Sankhyã paper by Kelker on spherically symmetric variables. Especially because of Kelker’s characterisation of elliptically symmetric functions as scale mixtures of normals, which makes perfect sense since the scale cancels.

As I skimmed through my slides yesterday, fearing everyone knew about the MCMC basics, I decided to present today the Rao-Blackwellisation slides I gave in Warwick a few months ago.

## locally weighted MCMC

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags Australia, effective sample size, Harvard University, Melbourne, parallel MCMC, Rao-Blackwellisation, recycling, St Kilda, vanilla Rao-Blackwellisation on July 16, 2015 by xi'an**L**ast week, on arXiv, Espen Bernton, Shihao Yang, Yang Chen, Neil Shephard, and Jun Liu (all from Harvard) proposed a weighting scheme to associated MCMC simulations, in connection with the parallel MCMC of Ben Calderhead discussed earlier on the ‘Og. The weight attached to each proposal is either the acceptance probability itself (with the rejection probability being attached to the current value of the MCMC chain) or a renormalised version of the joint target x proposal, either forward or backward. Both solutions are unbiased in that they have the same expectation as the original MCMC average, being some sort of conditional expectation. The proof of domination in the paper builds upon Calderhead’s formalism.

This work reminded me of several reweighting proposals we made over the years, from the global Rao-Blackwellisation strategy with George Casella, to the vanilla Rao-Blackwellisation solution we wrote with Randal Douc a few years ago, both of whom also are demonstrably improving upon the standard MCMC average. By similarly recycling proposed but rejected values. Or by diminishing the variability due to the uniform draw. The slightly parallel nature of the approach also connects with our parallel MCM version with Pierre Jacob (now Harvard as well!) and Murray Smith (who now leaves in Melbourne, hence the otherwise unrelated picture).

## Quasi-Monte Carlo sampling

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, Travel, University life, Wines with tags CREST, forward-backward formula, JRSSB, London, MCMC, particle learning, quasi-Monte Carlo methods, Rao-Blackwellisation, Read Pap, reproducing kernel Hilbert space, Royal Statistical Society, SMC, systematic resampling on December 10, 2014 by xi'an

“The QMC algorithm forces us to write any simulation as an explicit function of uniform samples.” (p.8)

**A**s posted a few days ago, Mathieu Gerber and Nicolas Chopin will read this afternoon a Paper to the Royal Statistical Society on their sequential quasi-Monte Carlo sampling paper. Here are some comments on the paper that are preliminaries to my written discussion (to be sent before the slightly awkward deadline of *Jan 2, 2015*).

Quasi-Monte Carlo methods are definitely *not* popular within the (mainstream) statistical community, despite regular attempts by respected researchers like Art Owen and Pierre L’Écuyer to induce more use of those methods. It is thus to be hoped that the current attempt will be more successful, it being Read to the Royal Statistical Society being a major step towards a wide diffusion. I am looking forward to the collection of discussions that will result from the incoming afternoon (and bemoan once again having to miss it!).

“It is also the resampling step that makes the introduction of QMC into SMC sampling non-trivial.” (p.3)

At a mathematical level, the fact that randomised low discrepancy sequences produce both unbiased estimators *and* error rates of order

means that randomised quasi-Monte Carlo methods should always be used, instead of regular Monte Carlo methods! So why is it not *always* used?! The difficulty stands [I think] in expressing the Monte Carlo estimators in terms of a *deterministic* function of a *fixed* number of uniforms (and possibly of past simulated values). At least this is why I never attempted at crossing the Rubicon into the quasi-Monte Carlo realm… And maybe also why the step *had to* appear in connection with particle filters, which can be seen as dynamic importance sampling methods and hence enjoy a local iid-ness that relates better to quasi-Monte Carlo integrators than single-chain MCMC algorithms. For instance, each resampling step in a particle filter consists in a repeated multinomial generation, hence should have been turned into quasi-Monte Carlo ages ago. (However, rather than the basic solution drafted in Table 2, lower variance solutions like systematic and residual sampling have been proposed in the particle literature and I wonder if any of these is a special form of quasi-Monte Carlo.) In the present setting, the authors move further and apply quasi-Monte Carlo to the particles themselves. However, they still assume the deterministic transform

which the q-block on which I stumbled each time I contemplated quasi-Monte Carlo… So the fundamental difficulty with the whole proposal is that the generation from the Markov proposal

has to be of the above form. Is the strength of this assumption discussed anywhere in the paper? All baseline distributions there are normal. And in the case it does not easily apply, what would the gain bw in only using the second step (i.e., quasi-Monte Carlo-ing the multinomial simulation from the empirical cdf)? In a sequential setting with unknown parameters θ, the transform is modified each time θ is modified and I wonder at the impact on computing cost if the inverse cdf is not available analytically. And I presume simulating the θ’s cannot benefit from quasi-Monte Carlo improvements.

The paper obviously cannot get into every detail, obviously, but I would also welcome indications on the cost of deriving the Hilbert curve, in particular in connection with the dimension d as it has to separate all of the N particles, and on the stopping rule on m that means only H_{m} is used.

Another question stands with the multiplicity of low discrepancy sequences and their impact on the overall convergence. If Art Owen’s (1997) nested scrambling leads to the best rate, as implied by Theorem 7, why should we ever consider another choice?

In connection with Lemma 1 and the sequential quasi-Monte Carlo approximation of the evidence, I wonder at any possible Rao-Blackwellisation using all proposed moves rather than only those accepted. I mean, from a quasi-Monte Carlo viewpoint, is Rao-Blackwellisation easier and is it of any significant interest?

What are the computing costs and gains for forward and backward sampling? They are not discussed there. I also fail to understand the trick at the end of 4.2.1, using SQMC on a single vector instead of (t+1) of them. Again assuming inverse cdfs are available? Any connection with the Polson et al.’s particle learning literature?

Last questions: what is the (learning) effort for lazy me to move to SQMC? Any hope of stepping outside particle filtering?

## importance sampling schemes for evidence approximation [revised]

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags Andrew Gelman, candidate approximation, Chib's approximation, evidence, finite mixtures, label switching, permutations, Rao-Blackwellisation on November 18, 2014 by xi'an**A**fter a rather intense period of new simulations and versions, Juong Een (Kate) Lee and I have now resubmitted our paper on (some) importance sampling schemes for evidence approximation in mixture models to Bayesian Analysis. There is no fundamental change in the new version but rather a more detailed description of what those importance schemes mean in practice. The original idea in the paper is to improve upon the Rao-Blackwellisation solution proposed by Berkoff et al. (2002) and later by Marin et al. (2005) to avoid the impact of label switching on Chib’s formula. The Rao-Blackwellisation consists in averaging over all permutations of the labels while the improvement relies on the elimination of useless permutations, namely those that produce a negligible conditional density in Chib’s (candidate’s) formula. While the improvement implies truncated the overall sum and hence induces a potential bias (which was the concern of one referee), the determination of the irrelevant permutations after relabelling next to a single mode does not appear to cause any bias, while reducing the computational overload. Referees also made us aware of many recent proposals that conduct to different evidence approximations, albeit not directly related with our purpose. (One was Rodrigues and Walker, 2014, discussed and commented in a recent post.)

## density normalization for MCMC algorithms

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags harmonic mean estimator, importance sampling, Laplace approximation, MCMC, MCQMC, Monte Carlo Statistical Methods, normalising constant, Rao-Blackwellisation, untractable normalizing constant on November 6, 2014 by xi'an**A**nother paper addressing the estimation of the normalising constant and the wealth of available solutions just came out on arXiv, with the full title of “Target density normalization for Markov chain Monte Carlo algorithms“, written by Allen Caldwell and Chang Liu. (I became aware of it by courtesy of Ewan Cameron, as it appeared in the physics section of arXiv. It is actually a wee bit annoying that papers in the subcategory “Data Analysis, Statistics and Probability” of physics do not get an automated reposting on the statistics lists…)

In this paper, the authors compare three approaches to the problem of finding

when the density f is unormalised, i.e., in more formal terms, when f is proportional to a probability density (and available):

- an “arithmetic mean”, which is an importance sampler based on (a) reducing the integration volume to a neighbourhood ω of the global mode. This neighbourhood is chosen as an hypercube and the importance function turns out to be the uniform over this hypercube. The corresponding estimator is then a rescaled version of the average of f over uniform simulations in ω.
- an “harmonic mean”, of all choices!, with again an integration over the neighbourhood ω of the global mode in order to avoid the almost sure infinite variance of harmonic mean estimators.
- a Laplace approximation, using the target at the mode and the Hessian at the mode as well.

The paper then goes to comparing those three solutions on a few examples, demonstrating how the diameter of the hypercube can be calibrated towards a minimum (estimated) uncertainty. The rather anticlimactic conclusion is that the arithmetic mean is the most reliable solution as harmonic means may fail in larger dimension and more importantly fail to signal its failure, while Laplace approximations only approximate well quasi-Gaussian densities…

What I find most interesting in this paper is the idea of using only one part of the integration space to compute the integral, even though it is not exactly new. Focussing on a specific region ω has pros and cons, the pros being that the reduction to a modal region reduces needs for absolute MCMC convergence and helps in selecting alternative proposals and also prevents from the worst consequences of using a dreaded harmonic mean, the cons being that the region needs be well-identified, which means requirements on the MCMC kernel, and that the estimate is a product of two estimates, the frequency being driven by a Binomial noise. I also like very much the idea of calibrating the diameter Δof the hypercube ex-post by estimating the uncertainty.

As an aside, the paper mentions most of the alternative solutions I just presented in my Monte Carlo graduate course two days ago (like nested or bridge or Rao-Blackwellised sampling, including our proposal with Darren Wraith), but dismisses them as not “directly applicable in an MCMC setting”, i.e., without modifying this setting. I unsurprisingly dispute this labelling, both because something like the Laplace approximation requires extra-work on the MCMC output (and once done this work can lead to advanced Laplace methods like INLA) and because other methods could be considered as well (for instance, bridge sampling over several hypercubes). As shown in the recent paper by Mathieu Gerber and Nicolas Chopin (soon to be discussed at the RSS!), MCqMC has also become a feasible alternative that would compete well with the methods studied in this paper.

Overall, this is a paper that comes in a long list of papers on constant approximations. I do not find the Markov chain of MCMC aspect particularly compelling or specific, once the effective sample size is accounted for. It would be nice to find generic ways of optimising the visit to the hypercube ω *and* to estimate efficiently the weight of ω. The comparison is solely run over examples, but they all rely on a proper characterisation of the hypercube and the ability to simulate efficiently f over that hypercube.

## Combining Particle MCMC with Rao-Blackwellized Monte Carlo Data Association

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags -Blackwellized Monte Carlo Data Association, bear, data association, Finland, MCMC, particle Gibbs sampler, pMCMC, prior-posterior discrepancy, Rao-Blackwellisation, simulation, target tracking, tiger, Western Ghats on October 10, 2014 by xi'an**T**his recently arXived paper by Juho Kokkala and Simo Särkkä mixes a whole lot of interesting topics, from particle MCMC and Rao-Blackwellisation to particle filters, Kalman filters, and even bear population estimation. The starting setup is the state-space hidden process models where particle filters are of use. And where Andrieu, Doucet and Hollenstein (2010) introduced their particle MCMC algorithms. Rao-Blackwellisation steps have been proposed in this setup in the original paper, as well as in the ensuing discussion, like recycling rejected parameters and associated particles. The beginning of the paper is a review of the literature in this area, in particular of the Rao*-Blackwellized Monte Carlo Data Association* algorithm developed by Särkkä et al. (2007), of which I was not aware previously. (I alas have not followed closely enough the filtering literature in the past years.) Targets evolve independently according to Gaussian dynamics.

In the description of the model (Section 3), I feel there are prerequisites on the model I did not have (and did not check in Särkkä et al., 2007), like the meaning of targets and measurements: it seems the model assumes each measurement corresponds to a given target. More details or an example would have helped. The extension against the existing appears to be the (major) step of including unknown parameters. Due to my lack of expertise in the domain, I have no notion of the existence of similar proposals in the literature, but handling unknown parameters is definitely of direct relevance for the statistical analysis of such problems!

The simulation experiment based on an Ornstein-Uhlenbeck model is somewhat anticlimactic in that the posterior on the mean reversion rate is essentially the prior, conveniently centred at the true value, while the others remain quite wide. It may be that the experiment was too ambitious in selecting 30 simultaneous targets with only a total of 150 observations. Without highly informative priors, my beotian reaction is to doubt the feasibility of the inference. In the case of the Finnish bear study, the huge discrepancy between priors and posteriors, as well as the significant difference between the forestry expert estimations and the model predictions should be discussed, if not addressed, possibly via a simulation using the posteriors as priors. Or maybe using a hierarchical Bayes model to gather a time-wise coherence in the number of bear families. (I wonder if this technique would apply to the type of data gathered by Mohan Delampady on the West Ghats tigers…)

Overall, I am slightly intrigued by the practice of running MCMC chains in parallel and merging the outcomes with no further processing. This assumes a lot in terms of convergence and mixing on all the chains. However, convergence is never directly addressed in the paper.