PLoS topic page on ABC

June 6, 2012
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(This article was first published on Xi'an's Og » R, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

A few more comments on the specific entry on ABC written by Mikael Sunnåker et al…. The entry starts with the representation of the posterior probability of an hypothesis, rather than with the posterior density of a model parameter, which seems to lead the novice reader astray. After all, (a) ABC was not introduced for conducting model choice and (b) interchanging hypothesis and model means that the probability of an hypothesis H as used in the entry is actually the evidence in favour of the corresponding model. (There are a few typos and grammar mistakes, but I assume either PLoS or later contributors will correct those.) When the authors state that the “outcome of the ABC rejection algorithm is a set of parameter estimates distributed according to the desired posterior distribution”, I think they are misleading the readers as they forget the “approximative” aspect of this distribution. Further below, I would have used the title “Insufficient summary statistics” rather than “Sufficient summary statistics”, as it spells out more clearly the fundamental issue with the potential difficulty in using ABC. (And I am not sure the subsequent paragraph on “Choice and sufficiency of summary statistics” should bother with the sufficiency aspects… It seems to me much more relevant to assess the impact on predictive performances.)

Although this is most minor, I would not have made mention of the (rather artificial) “table for interpretation of the strength in values of the Bayes factor (…) originally published by Harold Jeffreys[6] “. I obviously appreciate very much that the authors advertise our warning about the potential lack of validity of an ABC based Bayes factor! I also like the notion of “quality control”, even though it should only appear once. And the pseudo-example is quite fine as an introduction, while it could be supplemented with the outcome resulting from a large n, to be compared with the true posterior distribution. The section “Pitfalls and remedies” is remarkable in that it details the necessary steps for validating a ABC implementation: the only entry I would remove is the one about “Prior distribution and parameter ranges”, in that this is not a problem inherent to ABC… (Granted, the authors present this as a “general risks in statistical inference exacerbated in ABC”, which makes more sense!) It may be that the section on the non-zero tolerance should emphasize more clearly the fact that ε should not be zero. As discussed in the recent Read Paper by Fearnhead and Prangle when envisioning ABC as a non-parametric method of inference.

At last, it is always possible to criticise the coverage of the historical part, since ABC is such a recent field that it is constantly evolving. But the authors correctly point out to (Don) Rubin on the one hand and to Diggle and Graton on the other. Now, I would suggest adding in this section links to the relevant softwares like our own DIY-ABC

(Those comments have also been posted on the PLoS Computational Biology wiki.)


Filed under: Books, pictures, R, Statistics, University life Tagged: ABC, Bayes factor, Bayesian non-parametrics, DIYABC, Harold Jeffreys, history of statistics, insufficiency, PLoS computational biology, sufficiency, wikipedia

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