Archive for STAN

call for sessions and labs at Bay2sC0mp²⁰

Posted in pictures, R, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2019 by xi'an

A call to all potential participants to the incoming BayesComp 2020 conference at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, 7-10 January 2020, to submit proposals [to me] for contributed sessions on everything computational or training labs [to David Rossell] on a specific language or software. The deadline is April 1 and the sessions will be selected by the scientific committee, other proposals being offered the possibility to present the associated research during a poster session [which always is a lively component of the conference]. (Conversely, we reserve the possibility of a “last call” session made from particularly exciting posters on new topics.) Plenary speakers for this conference are

and the first invited sessions are already posted on the webpage of the conference. We dearly hope to attract a wide area of research interests into a as diverse as possible program, so please accept this invitation!!!

Computational Bayesian Statistics [book review]

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2019 by xi'an

This Cambridge University Press book by M. Antónia Amaral Turkman, Carlos Daniel Paulino, and Peter Müller is an enlarged translation of a set of lecture notes in Portuguese. (Warning: I have known Peter Müller from his PhD years in Purdue University and cannot pretend to perfect objectivity. For one thing, Peter once brought me frozen-solid beer: revenge can also be served cold!) Which reminds me of my 1994 French edition of Méthodes de Monte Carlo par chaînes de Markov, considerably upgraded into Monte Carlo Statistical Methods (1998) thanks to the input of George Casella. (Re-warning: As an author of books on the same topic(s), I can even less pretend to objectivity.)

“The “great idea” behind the development of computational Bayesian statistics is the recognition that Bayesian inference can be implemented by way of simulation from the posterior distribution.”

The book is written from a strong, almost militant, subjective Bayesian perspective (as, e.g., when half-Bayesians are mentioned!). Subjective (and militant) as in Dennis Lindley‘s writings, eminently quoted therein. As well as in Tony O’Hagan‘s. Arguing that the sole notion of a Bayesian estimator is the entire posterior distribution. Unless one brings in a loss function. The book also discusses the Bayes factor in a critical manner, which is fine from my perspective.  (Although the ban on improper priors makes its appearance in a very indirect way at the end of the last exercise of the first chapter.)

Somewhat at odds with the subjectivist stance of the previous chapter, the chapter on prior construction only considers non-informative and conjugate priors. Which, while understandable in an introductory book, is a wee bit disappointing. (When mentioning Jeffreys’ prior in multidimensional settings, the authors allude to using univariate Jeffreys’ rules for the marginal prior distributions, which is not a well-defined concept or else Bernardo’s and Berger’s reference priors would not have been considered.) The chapter also mentions the likelihood principle at the end of the last exercise, without a mention of the debate about its derivation by Birnbaum. Or Deborah Mayo’s recent reassessment of the strong likelihood principle. The following chapter is a sequence of illustrations in classical exponential family models, classical in that it is found in many Bayesian textbooks. (Except for the Poison model found in Exercise 3.3!)

Nothing to complain (!) about the introduction of Monte Carlo methods in the next chapter, especially about the notion of inference by Monte Carlo methods. And the illustration by Bayesian design. The chapter also introduces Rao-Blackwellisation [prior to introducing Gibbs sampling!]. And the simplest form of bridge sampling. (Resuscitating the weighted bootstrap of Gelfand and Smith (1990) may not be particularly urgent for an introduction to the topic.) There is furthermore a section on sequential Monte Carlo, including the Kalman filter and particle filters, in the spirit of Pitt and Shephard (1999). This chapter is thus rather ambitious in the amount of material covered with a mere 25 pages. Consensus Monte Carlo is even mentioned in the exercise section.

“This and other aspects that could be criticized should not prevent one from using this [Bayes factor] method in some contexts, with due caution.”

Chapter 5 turns back to inference with model assessment. Using Bayesian p-values for model assessment. (With an harmonic mean spotted in Example 5.1!, with no warning about the risks, except later in 5.3.2.) And model comparison. Presenting the whole collection of xIC information criteria. from AIC to WAIC, including a criticism of DIC. The chapter feels somewhat inconclusive but methinks this is the right feeling on the current state of the methodology for running inference about the model itself.

“Hint: There is a very easy answer.”

Chapter 6 is also a mostly standard introduction to Metropolis-Hastings algorithms and the Gibbs sampler. (The argument given later of a Metropolis-Hastings algorithm with acceptance probability one does not work.) The Gibbs section also mentions demarginalization as a [latent or auxiliary variable] way to simulate from complex distributions [as we do], but without defining the notion. It also references the precursor paper of Tanner and Wong (1987). The chapter further covers slice sampling and Hamiltonian Monte Carlo, the later with sufficient details to lead to reproducible implementations. Followed by another standard section on convergence assessment, returning to the 1990’s feud of single versus multiple chain(s). The exercise section gets much larger than in earlier chapters with several pages dedicated to most problems. Including one on ABC, maybe not very helpful in this context!

“…dimension padding (…) is essentially all that is to be said about the reversible jump. The rest are details.”

The next chapter is (somewhat logically) the follow-up for trans-dimensional problems and marginal likelihood approximations. Including Chib’s (1995) method [with no warning about potential biases], the spike & slab approach of George and McCulloch (1993) that I remember reading in a café at the University of Wyoming!, the somewhat antiquated MC³ of Madigan and York (1995). And then the much more recent array of Bayesian lasso techniques. The trans-dimensional issues are covered by the pseudo-priors of Carlin and Chib (1995) and the reversible jump MCMC approach of Green (1995), the later being much more widely employed in the literature, albeit difficult to tune [and even to comprehensively describe, as shown by the algorithmic representation in the book] and only recommended for a large number of models under comparison. Once again the exercise section is most detailed, with recent entries like the EM-like variable selection algorithm of Ročková and George (2014).

The book also includes a chapter on analytical approximations, which is also the case in ours [with George Casella] despite my reluctance to bring them next to exact (simulation) methods. The central object is the INLA methodology of Rue et al. (2009) [absent from our book for obvious calendar reasons, although Laplace and saddlepoint approximations are found there as well]. With a reasonable amount of details, although stopping short of implementable reproducibility. Variational Bayes also makes an appearance, mostly following the very recent Blei et al. (2017).

The gem and originality of the book are primarily to be found in the final and ninth chapter where four software are described, all with interfaces to R: OpenBUGS, JAGS, BayesX, and Stan, plus R-INLA which is processed in the second half of the chapter (because this is not a simulation method). As in the remainder of the book, the illustrations are related to medical applications. Worth mentioning is the reminder that BUGS came in parallel with Gelfand and Smith (1990) Gibbs sampler rather than as a consequence. Even though the formalisation of the Markov chain Monte Carlo principle by the later helped in boosting the power of this software. (I also appreciated the mention made of Sylvia Richardson’s role in this story.) Since every software is illustrated in depth with relevant code and output, and even with the shortest possible description of its principle and modus vivendi, the chapter is 60 pages long [and missing a comparative conclusion]. Given my total ignorance of the very existence of the BayesX software, I am wondering at the relevance of its inclusion in this description rather than, say, other general R packages developed by authors of books such as Peter Rossi. The chapter also includes a description of CODA, with an R version developed by Martin Plummer [now a Warwick colleague].

In conclusion, this is a high-quality and all-inclusive introduction to Bayesian statistics and its computational aspects. By comparison, I find it much more ambitious and informative than Albert’s. If somehow less pedagogical than the thicker book of Richard McElreath. (The repeated references to Paulino et al.  (2018) in the text do not strike me as particularly useful given that this other book is written in Portuguese. Unless an English translation is in preparation.)

Disclaimer: this book was sent to me by CUP for endorsement and here is what I wrote in reply for a back-cover entry:

An introduction to computational Bayesian statistics cooked to perfection, with the right mix of ingredients, from the spirited defense of the Bayesian approach, to the description of the tools of the Bayesian trade, to a definitely broad and very much up-to-date presentation of Monte Carlo and Laplace approximation methods, to an helpful description of the most common software. And spiced up with critical perspectives on some common practices and an healthy focus on model assessment and model selection. Highly recommended on the menu of Bayesian textbooks!

And this review is likely to appear in CHANCE, in my book reviews column.

Masterclass in Bayesian Statistics in Marseilles next Fall

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, R, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2018 by xi'an

This post is to announce a second occurrence of the exciting “masterclass in Bayesian Statistics” that we organised in 2016, near Marseilles. It will take place on 22-26 October 2018 once more at CIRM (Centre International de Recherches Mathématiques, Luminy, Marseilles, France). The targeted audience includes all scientists interested in learning how Bayesian inference may be used to tackle the practical problems they face in their own research. In particular PhD students and post-docs should benefit most directly from this masterclass. Among the invited speakers, Kerrie Mengersen from QUT, Brisbane, visiting Marseilles this Fall, will deliver a series of lectures on the interface between Bayesian statistics and applied modelling, Havard Rue from KAUST will talk on computing with INLA, and Aki Vehtari from Aalto U, Helsinki, will give a course on Bayesian model assessment and model choice. There will be two tutorials on R and on Stan.

All interested participants in this masterclass should pre-register as early as possible, given that the total attendance is limited to roughly 90 participants. Some specific funding for local expenses (i.e., food + accommodation on-siteat CIRM) is available (thanks to CIRM, and potentially to Fondation Jacques Hadamard, to be confirmed); this funding will be attributed by the scientific committee, with high priority to PhD students and post-docs.

StanCon in Helsinki [29-31 Aug 2018]

Posted in Books, pictures, R, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2018 by xi'an

As emailed to me by Aki Vehtari, the next StanCon will take place this summer in the wonderful city of Helsinki, at the end of August. On Aalto University Töölö Campus precisely. The list of speakers and tutorial teachers is available on the webpage. (The only “negative point” is that the conference does not include a Tuesday, the night of the transcendence 2 miles race!) Somewhat concluding this never-ending summer of Bayesian conferences!

bridgesampling [R package]

Posted in pictures, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2017 by xi'an

Quentin F. Gronau, Henrik Singmann and Eric-Jan Wagenmakers have arXived a detailed documentation about their bridgesampling R package. (No wonder that researchers from Amsterdam favour bridge sampling!) [The package relates to a [52 pages] tutorial on bridge sampling by Gronau et al. that I will hopefully comment soon.] The bridge sampling methodology for marginal likelihood approximation requires two Monte Carlo samples for a ratio of two integrals. A nice twist in this approach is to use a dummy integral that is already available, with respect to a probability density that is an approximation to the exact posterior. This means avoiding the difficulties with bridge sampling of bridging two different parameter spaces, in possibly different dimensions, with potentially very little overlap between the posterior distributions. The substitute probability density is chosen as Normal or warped Normal, rather than a t which would provide more stability in my opinion. The bridgesampling package also provides an error evaluation for the approximation, although based on spectral estimates derived from the coda package. The remainder of the document exhibits how the package can be used in conjunction with either JAGS or Stan. And concludes with the following words of caution:

“It should also be kept in mind that there may be cases in which the bridge sampling procedure may not be the ideal choice for conducting Bayesian model comparisons. For instance, when the models are nested it might be faster and easier to use the Savage-Dickey density ratio (Dickey and Lientz 1970; Wagenmakers et al. 2010). Another example is when the comparison of interest concerns a very large model space, and a separate bridge sampling based computation of marginal likelihoods may take too much time. In this scenario, Reversible Jump MCMC (Green 1995) may be more appropriate.”

a conceptual introduction to HMC [reply from the author]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2017 by xi'an

[Here is the reply on my post from Michael Bétancourt, detailed enough to be promoted from comment to post!]

As Dan notes this is meant as an introduction for those without a strong mathematical background, hence the focus on concepts rather than theorems! There’s plenty of maths deeper in the references. ;-)

 I am not sure I get this sentence. Either it means that an expectation remains invariant under reparameterisation. Or something else and more profound that eludes me. In particular because Michael repeats later (p.25) that the canonical density does not depend on the parameterisation.

What I was trying to get at is that expectations and really all of measure theory are reparameteriztion invariant, but implementations of statistical algorithms that depend on parameterization-dependent representations, namely densities, are not. If your algorithm is sensitive to these parameterization dependencies then you end up with a tuning problem — which parameterization is best? — which makes it harder to utilize the algorithm in practice.

Exact implementations of HMC (i.e. without an integrator) are fully geometric and do not depend on any chosen parameterization, hence the canonical density and more importantly the Hamiltonian being an invariant objects. That said, there are some choices to be made in that construction, and those choices often look like parameter dependencies. See below!

“Every choice of kinetic energy and integration time yields a new Hamiltonian transition that will interact differently with a given target distribution (…) when poorly-chosen, however, the performance can suffer dramatically.”

This is exactly where it’s easy to get confused with what’s invariant and what’s not!

The target density gives rise to a potential energy, and the chosen density over momenta gives rise to a kinetic energy. The two energies transform in opposite ways under a reparameterization so their sum, the Hamiltonian, is invariant.

Really there’s a fully invariant, measure-theoretic construction where you use the target measure directly and add a “cotangent disintegration”.

In practice, however, we often choose a default kinetic energy, i.e. a log density, based on the parameterization of the target parameter space, for example an “identify mass matrix” kinetic energy. In other words, the algorithm itself is invariant but by selecting the algorithmic degrees of freedom based on the parameterization of the target parameter space we induce an implicit parameter dependence.

This all gets more complicated when we introducing the adaptation we use in Stan, which sets the elements of the mass matrix to marginal variances which means that the adapted algorithm is invariant to marginal transformations but not joint ones…

The explanation of the HMC move as a combination of uniform moves along isoclines of fixed energy level and of jumps between energy levels does not seem to translate into practical implementations, at least not as explained in the paper. Simulating directly the energy distribution for a complex target distribution does not seem more feasible than moving up likelihood levels in nested sampling.

Indeed, being able to simulate exactly from the energy distribution, which is equivalent to being able to quantify the density of states in statistical mechanics, is intractable for the same reason that marginal likelihoods are intractable. Which is a shame, because conditioned on those samples HMC could be made embarrassingly parallel!

Instead we draw correlated samples using momenta resamplings between each trajectory. As Dan noted this provides some intuition about Stan (it reduced random walk behavior to one dimension) but also motivates some powerful energy-based diagnostics that immediately indicate when the momentum resampling is limiting performance and we need to improve it by, say, changing the kinetic energy. Or per my previous comment, by keeping the kinetic energy the same but changing the parameterization of the target parameter space. :-)

In the end I cannot but agree with the concluding statement that the geometry of the target distribution holds the key to devising more efficient Monte Carlo methods.

Yes! That’s all I really want statisticians to take away from the paper. :-)