Archive for tolerance

ABC on brain networks

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2021 by xi'an

Research Gate sent me an automated email pointing out a recent paper citing some of our ABC papers. The paper is written by Timothy West et al., neuroscientists in the UK, comparing models of Parkinsonian circuit dynamics. Using SMC-ABC. One novelty is the update of the tolerance by a fixed difference, unless the acceptance rate is too low, in which case the tolerance is reinitialised to a starting value.

“(…) the proposal density P(θ|D⁰) is formed from the accepted parameters sets. We use a density approximation to the marginals and a copula for the joint (…) [i.e.] a nonparametric estimation of the marginal densities overeach parameter [and] the t-copula(…) Data are transformed to the copula scale (unit-square) using the kernel density estimator of the cumulative distribution function of each parameter and then transformed to the joint space with the t-copula.”

The construct of the proposal is quite involved, as described in the above quote. The model choice approach is standard (à la Grelaud et al.) but uses the median distance as a tolerance.

“(…) test whether the ABC estimator will: a) yield parameter estimates that are unique to the data from which they have been optimized; and b) yield consistent estimation of parameters across multiple instances (…) test the face validity of the model comparison framework (…) [and] demonstrate the scalability of the optimization and model comparison framework.”

The paper runs a fairly extensive test of the above features, concluding that “the ABC optimized posteriors are consistent across multiple initializations and that the output is determined by differences in the underlying model generating the given data.” Concerning model comparison, the authors mix the ABC Bayes factor with a post-hoc analysis of divergence to discriminate against overfitting. And mention the potential impact of the summary statistics in the conclusion section, albeit briefly, and the remark that the statistics were “sufficient to recover known parameters” is not supporting their use for model comparison. The additional criticism of sampling strategies for approximating Bayes factors is somewhat irrelevant, the main issue with ABC model choice being a change of magnitude in the evidence.

“ABC has established itself as a key tool for parameter estimation in systems biology (…) but is yet to see wide adoption in systems neuroscience. It is known that ABC will not perform well under certain conditions (Sunnåker et al., 2013). Specifically, it has been shown that the
simplest form of ABC algorithm based upon an rejection-sampling approach is inefficient in the case where the prior densities lie far from the true posterior (…) This motivates the use of neurobiologically grounded models over phenomenological models where often the ranges of potential parameter values are unknown.”

ABC with inflated tolerance

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2020 by xi'an


For the last One World ABC seminar of the year 2020, this coming Thursday, Matti Vihola is speaking from Finland on his recent Biometrika paper “On the use of ABC-MCMC with inflated tolerance and post-correction”. To attend the talk, all is required is a registration on the seminar webpage.

The Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) implementation of ABC is often sensitive to the tolerance parameter: low tolerance leads to poor mixing and large tolerance entails excess bias. We propose an approach that involves using a relatively large tolerance for the MCMC sampler to ensure sufficient mixing, and post-processing of the output which leads to estimators for a range of finer tolerances. We introduce an approximate confidence interval for the related post-corrected estimators and propose an adaptive ABC-MCMC algorithm, which finds a balanced tolerance level automatically based on acceptance rate optimization. Our experiments suggest that post-processing-based estimators can perform better than direct MCMC targeting a fine tolerance, that our confidence intervals are reliable, and that our adaptive algorithm can lead to reliable inference with little user specification.

adaptive ABC tolerance

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2020 by xi'an

“There are three common approaches for selecting the tolerance sequence (…) [they] can lead to inefficient sampling”

Umberto Simola, Jessi Cisewski-Kehe, Michael Gutmann and Jukka Corander recently arXived a paper entitled Adaptive Approximate Bayesian Computation Tolerance Selection. I appreciate that they start from our ABC-PMC paper, i.e., Beaumont et al. (2009) [although the representation that the ABC tolerances are fixed in advance is somewhat incorrect in that we used in our codes quantiles of the distances to set our tolerances.] This is also the approach advocated for the initialisation step by the current paper.  Although remaining a wee bit vague. Subsequent steps are based on the proximity between the resulting approximations to the ABC posteriors, more exactly with a quantile derived from the maximum of the ratio between two estimated successive ABC posteriors. Mimicking the Accept-Reject step if always one step too late.  The iteration stops when the ratio is almost one, possibly missing the target due to Monte Carlo variability. (Recall that the “optimal” tolerance is not zero for a finite sample size.)

“…the decrease in the acceptance rate is mitigated by the improvement in the proposed particles.”

A problem is that it depends on the form of the approximation and requires non-parametric hence imprecise steps. Maybe variational encoders could help. Interesting approach by Sugiyama et al. (2012), of which I knew nothing, the core idea being that the ratio of two densities is also the solution to minimising a distance between the numerator density and a variable function times the bottom density. However since only the maximum of the ratio is needed, a more focused approach could be devised. Rather than first approximating the ratio and second maximising the estimated ratio. Maybe the solution of Goffinet et al. (1992) on estimating an accept-reject constant could work.

A further comment is that the estimated density is not properly normalised, which lessens the Accept-Reject analogy since the optimum may well stand above one. And thus stop “too soon”. (Incidentally, the paper contains the mixture example of Sisson et al. (2007), for which our own graphs were strongly criticised during our Biometrika submission!)

ABC with Gibbs steps

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2019 by xi'an

With Grégoire Clarté, Robin Ryder and Julien Stoehr, all from Paris-Dauphine, we have just arXived a paper on the specifics of ABC-Gibbs, which is a version of ABC where the generic ABC accept-reject step is replaced by a sequence of n conditional ABC accept-reject steps, each aiming at an ABC version of a conditional distribution extracted from the joint and intractable target. Hence an ABC version of the standard Gibbs sampler. What makes it so special is that each conditional can (and should) be conditioning on a different statistic in order to decrease the dimension of this statistic, ideally down to the dimension of the corresponding component of the parameter. This successfully bypasses the curse of dimensionality but immediately meets with two difficulties. The first one is that the resulting sequence of conditionals is not coherent, since it is not a Gibbs sampler on the ABC target. The conditionals are thus incompatible and therefore convergence of the associated Markov chain becomes an issue. We produce sufficient conditions for the Gibbs sampler to converge to a stationary distribution using incompatible conditionals. The second problem is then that, provided it exists, the limiting and also intractable distribution does not enjoy a Bayesian interpretation, hence may fail to be justified from an inferential viewpoint. We however succeed in producing a version of ABC-Gibbs in a hierarchical model where the limiting distribution can be explicited and even better can be weighted towards recovering the original target. (At least with limiting zero tolerance.)

asymptotics of synthetic likelihood [a reply from the authors]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2019 by xi'an

[Here is a reply from David, Chris, and Robert on my earlier comments, highlighting some points I had missed or misunderstood.]

Dear Christian

Thanks for your interest in our synthetic likelihood paper and the thoughtful comments you wrote about it on your blog.  We’d like to respond to the comments to avoid some misconceptions.

Your first claim is that we don’t account for the differing number of simulation draws required for each parameter proposal in ABC and synthetic likelihood.  This doesn’t seem correct, see the discussion below Lemma 4 at the bottom of page 12.  The comparison between methods is on the basis of effective sample size per model simulation.

As you say, in the comparison of ABC and synthetic likelihood, we consider the ABC tolerance \epsilon and the number of simulations per likelihood estimate M in synthetic likelihood as functions of n.  Then for tuning parameter choices that result in the same uncertainty quantification asymptotically (and the same asymptotically as the true posterior given the summary statistic) we can look at the effective sample size per model simulation.  Your objection here seems to be that even though uncertainty quantification is similar for large n, for a finite n the uncertainty quantification may differ.  This is true, but similar arguments can be directed at almost any asymptotic analysis, so this doesn’t seem a serious objection to us at least.  We don’t find it surprising that the strong synthetic likelihood assumptions, when accurate, give you something extra in terms of computational efficiency.

We think mixing up the synthetic likelihood/ABC comparison with the comparison between correctly specified and misspecified covariance in Bayesian synthetic likelihood is a bit unfortunate, since these situations are quite different.  The first involves correct uncertainty quantification asymptotically for both methods.  Only a very committed reader who looked at our paper in detail would understand what you say here.  The question we are asking with the misspecified covariance is the following.  If the usual Bayesian synthetic likelihood analysis is too much for our computational budget, can something still be done to quantify uncertainty?  We think the answer is yes, and with the misspecified covariance we can reduce the computational requirements by an order of magnitude, but with an appropriate cost statistically speaking.  The analyses with misspecified covariance give valid frequentist confidence regions asymptotically, so this may still be useful if it is all that can be done.  The examples as you say show something of the nature of the trade-off involved.

We aren’t quite sure what you mean when you are puzzled about why we can avoid having M to be O(√n).  Note that because of the way the summary statistics satisfy a central limit theorem, elements of the covariance matrix of S are already O(1/n), and so, for example, in estimating μ(θ) as an average of M simulations for S, the elements of the covariance matrix of the estimator of μ(θ) are O(1/(Mn)).  Similar remarks apply to estimation of Σ(θ).  I’m not sure whether that gets to the heart of what you are asking here or not.

In our email discussion you mention the fact that if M increases with n, then the computational burden of a single likelihood approximation and hence generating a single parameter sample also increases with n.  This is true, but unavoidable if you want exact uncertainty quantification asymptotically, and M can be allowed to increase with n at any rate.  With a fixed M there will be some approximation error, which is often small in practice.  The situation with vanilla ABC methods will be even worse, in terms of the number of proposals required to generate a single accepted sample, in the case where exact uncertainty quantification is desired asymptotically.  As shown in Li and Fearnhead (2018), if regression adjustment is used with ABC and you can find a good proposal in their sense, one can avoid this.  For vanilla ABC, if the focus is on point estimation and exact uncertainty quantification is not required, the situation is better.  Of course as you show in your nice ABC paper for misspecified models jointly with David Frazier and Juidth Rousseau recently the choice of whether to use regression adjustment can be subtle in the case of misspecification.

In our previous paper Price, Drovandi, Lee and Nott (2018) (which you also reviewed on this blog) we observed that if the summary statistics are exactly normal, then you can sample from the summary statistic posterior exactly with finite M in the synthetic likelihood by using pseudo-marginal ideas together with an unbiased estimate of a normal density due to Ghurye and Olkin (1962).  When S satisfies a central limit theorem so that S is increasingly close to normal as n gets large, we conjecture that it is possible to get exact uncertainty quantification asymptotically with fixed M if we use the Ghurye and Olkin estimator, but we have no proof of that yet (if it is true at all).

Thanks again for being interested enough in the paper to comment, much appreciated.

David, Chris, Robert.