Archive for summary statistics

SPA 2015 Oxford

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2015 by xi'an

Today I gave a talk on Approximate Bayesian model choice via random forests at the yearly SPA (Stochastic Processes and their Applications) 2015 conference, taking place in Oxford (a nice town near Warwick) this year. In Keble College more precisely. The slides are below and while they are mostly repetitions of earlier slides, there is a not inconsequential novelty in the presentation, namely that I included our most recent and current perspective on ABC model choice. Indeed, when travelling to Montpellier two weeks ago, we realised that there was a way to solve our posterior probability conundrum!

campusDespite the heat wave that rolled all over France that week, we indeed figured out a way to estimate the posterior probability of the selected (MAP) model, way that we had deemed beyond our reach in previous versions of the talk and of the paper. The fact that we could not provide an estimate of this posterior probability and had to rely instead on a posterior expected loss was one of the arguments used by the PNAS reviewers in rejecting the paper. While the posterior expected loss remains a quantity worth approximating and reporting, the idea that stemmed from meeting together in Montpellier is that (i) the posterior probability of the MAP is actually related to another posterior loss, when conditioning on the observed summary statistics and (ii) this loss can be itself estimated via a random forest, since it is another function of the summary statistics. A posteriori, this sounds trivial but we had to have a new look at the problem to realise that using ABC samples was not the only way to produce an estimate of the posterior probability! (We are now working on the revision of the paper for resubmission within a few week… Hopefully before JSM!)

approximate maximum likelihood estimation using data-cloning ABC

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2015 by xi'an

“By accepting of having obtained a poor approximation to the posterior, except for the location of its main mode, we switch to maximum likelihood estimation.”

Presumably the first paper ever quoting from the ‘Og! Indeed, Umberto Picchini arXived a paper about a technique merging ABC with prior feedback (rechristened data cloning by S. Lele), where a maximum likelihood estimate is produced by an ABC-MCMC algorithm. For state-space models. This relates to an earlier paper by Fabio Rubio and Adam Johansen (Warwick), who also suggested using ABC to approximate the maximum likelihood estimate. Here, the idea is to use an increasing number of replicates of the latent variables, as in our SAME algorithm, to spike the posterior around the maximum of the (observed) likelihood. An ABC version of this posterior returns a mean value as an approximate maximum likelihood estimate.

“This is a so-called “likelihood-free” approach [Sisson and Fan, 2011], meaning that knowledge of the complete expression for the likelihood function is not required.”

The above remark is sort of inappropriate in that it applies to a non-ABC setting where the latent variables are simulated from the exact marginal distributions, that is, unconditional on the data, and hence their density cancels in the Metropolis-Hastings ratio. This pre-dates ABC by a few years, since this was an early version of particle filter.

“In this work we are explicitly avoiding the most typical usage of ABC, where the posterior is conditional on summary statistics of data S(y), rather than y.”

Another point I find rather negative in that, for state-space models, using the entire time-series as a “summary statistic” is unlikely to produce a good approximation.

The discussion on the respective choices of the ABC tolerance δ and on the prior feedback number of copies K is quite interesting, in that Umberto Picchini suggests setting δ first before increasing the number of copies. However, since the posterior gets more and more peaked as K increases, the consequences on the acceptance rate of the related ABC algorithm are unclear. Another interesting feature is that the underlying MCMC proposal on the parameter θ is an independent proposal, tuned during the warm-up stage of the algorithm. Since the tuning is repeated at each temperature, there are some loose ends as to whether or not it is a genuine Markov chain method. The same question arises when considering that additional past replicas need to be simulated when K increases. (Although they can be considered as virtual components of a vector made of an infinite number of replicas, to be used when needed.)

The simulation study involves a regular regression with 101 observations, a stochastic Gompertz model studied by Sophie Donnet, Jean-Louis Foulley, and Adeline Samson in 2010. With 12 points. And a simple Markov model. Again with 12 points. While the ABC-DC solutions are close enough to the true MLEs whenever available, a comparison with the cheaper ABC Bayes estimates would have been of interest as well.

not Bayesian enough?!

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on January 23, 2015 by xi'an

Elm tree in the park, Parc de Sceaux, Nov. 22, 2011Our random forest paper was alas rejected last week. Alas because I think the approach is a significant advance in ABC methodology when implemented for model choice, avoiding the delicate selection of summary statistics and the report of shaky posterior probability approximation. Alas also because the referees somewhat missed the point, apparently perceiving random forests as a way to project a large collection of summary statistics on a limited dimensional vector as in the Read Paper of Paul Fearnhead and Dennis Prarngle, while the central point in using random forests is the avoidance of a selection or projection of summary statistics.  They also dismissed ou approach based on the argument that the reduction in error rate brought by random forests over LDA or standard (k-nn) ABC is “marginal”, which indicates a degree of misunderstanding of what the classification error stand for in machine learning: the maximum possible gain in supervised learning with a large number of classes cannot be brought arbitrarily close to zero. Last but not least, the referees did not appreciate why we mostly cannot trust posterior probabilities produced by ABC model choice and hence why the posterior error loss is a valuable and almost inevitable machine learning alternative, dismissing the posterior expected loss as being not Bayesian enough (or at all), for “averaging over hypothetical datasets” (which is a replicate of Jeffreys‘ famous criticism of p-values)! Certainly a first time for me to be rejected based on this argument!

ABC with emulators

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on January 9, 2015 by xi'an

A paper on the comparison of emulation methods for Approximate Bayesian Computation was recently arXived by Jabot et al. The idea is to bypass costly simulations of pseudo-data by running cheaper simulation from a pseudo-model or emulator constructed via a preliminary run of the original and costly model. To borrow from the paper introduction, ABC-Emulation runs as follows:

  1. design a small number n of parameter values covering the parameter space;
  2. generate n corresponding realisations from the model and store the corresponding summary statistics;
  3. build an emulator (model) based on those n values;
  4. run ABC using the emulator in lieu of the original model.

A first emulator proposed in the paper is to use local regression, as in Beaumont et al. (2002), except that it goes the reverse way: the regression model predicts a summary statistics given the parameter value. The second and last emulator relies on Gaussian processes, as in Richard Wilkinson‘s as well as Ted Meeds’s and Max Welling‘s recent work [also quoted in the paper]. The comparison of the above emulators is based on an ecological community dynamics model. The results are that the stochastic version is superior to the deterministic one, but overall not very useful when implementing the Beaumont et al. (2002) correction. The paper however does not define what deterministic and what stochastic mean…

“We therefore recommend the use of local regressions instead of Gaussian processes.”

While I find the conclusions of the paper somewhat over-optimistic given the range of the experiment and the limitations of the emulator options (like non-parametric conditional density estimation), it seems to me that this is a direction to be pursued as we need to be able to simulate directly a vector of summary statistics instead of the entire data process, even when considering an approximation to the distribution of those summaries.

an ABC experiment

Posted in Books, pictures, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2014 by xi'an


ABCmadIn a cross-validated forum exchange, I used the code below to illustrate the working of an ABC algorithm:

#normal data with 100 observations
#observed summaries

#normal x gamma prior


  prior=priori(N) #reference table

  for (i in 1:N){
   summ[i,]=c(median(xi),mad(xi)) #summaries

  #normalisation factor for the distance

Hence I used the median and the mad as my summary statistics. And the outcome is rather surprising, for two reasons: the first one is that the posterior on the mean μ is much wider than when using the mean and the variance as summary statistics. This is not completely surprising in that the latter are sufficient, while the former are not. Still, the (-10,10) range on the mean is way larger… The second reason for surprise is that the true posterior distribution cannot be derived since the joint density of med and mad is unavailable.

sufvsinsufAfter thinking about this for a while, I went back to my workbench to check the difference with using mean and variance. To my greater surprise, I found hardly any difference! Using the almost exact ABC with 10⁶ simulations and a 5% subsampling rate returns exactly the same outcome. (The first row above is for the sufficient statistics (mean,standard deviation) while the second row is for the (median,mad) pair.) Playing with the distance does not help. The genuine posterior output is quite different, as exposed on the last row of the above, using a basic Gibbs sampler since the posterior is not truly conjugate.

Sequentially Constrained Monte Carlo

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2014 by xi'an

This newly arXived paper by S. Golchi and D. Campbell from Vancouver (hence the above picture) considers the (quite) interesting problem of simulating from a target distribution defined by a constraint. This is a question that have bothered me for a long while as I could not come up with a satisfactory solution all those years… Namely, when considering a hard constraint on a density, how can we find a sequence of targets that end up with the restricted density? This is of course connected with the zero measure case posted a few months ago. For instance, how do we efficiently simulate a sample from a Student’s t distribution with a fixed sample mean and a fixed sample variance?

“The key component of SMC is the filtering sequence of distributions through which the particles evolve towards the target distribution.” (p.3)

This is indeed the main issue! The paper considers using a sequence of intermediate targets hardening progressively the constraint(s), along with an SMC sampler, but this recommendation remains rather vague and hence I am at loss as to how to make it work when the exact constraint implies a change of measure. The first example is monotone regression where y has mean f(x) and f is monotone. (Everything is unidimensional here.) The sequence is then defined by adding a multiplicative term that is a function of ∂f/∂x, for instance


with τ growing to infinity to make the constraint moving from soft to hard. An interesting introduction, even though the hard constraint does not imply a change of parameter space or of measure. The second example is about estimating the parameters of an ODE, with the constraint being the ODE being satisfied exactly. Again, not exactly what I was looking for. But with an exotic application to deaths from the 1666 Black (Death) plague.

And then the third example is about ABC and the choice of summary statistics! The sequence of constraints is designed to keep observed and simulated summary statistics close enough when the dimension of those summaries increases, which means they are considered simultaneously rather than jointly. (In the sense of Ratmann et al., 2009. That is, with a multidimensional distance.) The model used for the application of the SMC is the dynamic model of Wood (2010, Nature). The outcome of this specific implementation is not that clear compared with alternatives… And again sadly does not deal with the/my zero measure issue.

Relevant statistics for Bayesian model choice [hot off the press!]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2014 by xi'an

jrssbabcOur paper about evaluating statistics used for ABC model choice has just appeared in Series B! It somewhat paradoxical that it comes out just a few days after we submitted our paper on using random forests for Bayesian model choice, thus bypassing the need for selecting those summary statistics by incorporating all statistics available and letting the trees automatically rank those statistics in term of their discriminating power. Nonetheless, this paper remains an exciting piece of work (!) as it addresses the more general and pressing question of the validity of running a Bayesian analysis with only part of the information contained in the data. Quite usefull in my (biased) opinion when considering the emergence of approximate inference already discussed on this ‘Og…

[As a trivial aside, I had first used fresh from the press(es) as the bracketted comment, before I realised the meaning was not necessarily the same in English and in French.]


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