A precursor of ABC-Gibbs

June 6, 2019
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Following our arXival of ABC-Gibbs, Dennis Prangle pointed out to us a 2016 paper by Athanasios Kousathanas, Christoph Leuenberger, Jonas Helfer, Mathieu Quinodoz, Matthieu Foll, and Daniel Wegmann, Likelihood-Free Inference in High-Dimensional Model, published in Genetics, Vol. 203, 893–904 in June 2016. This paper contains a version of ABC Gibbs where parameters are sequentially simulated from conditionals that depend on the data only through small dimension conditionally sufficient statistics. I had actually blogged about this paper in 2015 but since then completely forgotten about it. (The comments I had made at the time still hold, already pertaining to the coherence or lack thereof of the sampler. I had also forgotten I had run an experiment of an exact Gibbs sampler with incoherent conditionals, which then seemed to converge to something, if not the exact posterior.)

All ABC algorithms, including ABC-PaSS introduced here, require that statistics are sufficient for estimating the parameters of a given model. As mentioned above, parameter-wise sufficient statistics as required by ABC-PaSS are trivial to find for distributions of the exponential family. Since many population genetics models do not follow such distributions, sufficient statistics are known for the most simple models only. For more realistic models involving multiple populations or population size changes, only approximately-sufficient statistics can be found.

While Gibbs sampling is not mentioned in the paper, this is indeed a form of ABC-Gibbs, with the advantage of not facing convergence issues thanks to the sufficiency. The drawback being that this setting is restricted to exponential families and hence difficult to extrapolate to non-exponential distributions, as using almost-sufficient (or not) summary statistics leads to incompatible conditionals and thus jeopardise the convergence of the sampler. When thinking a wee bit more about the case treated by Kousathanas et al., I am actually uncertain about the validation of the sampler. When tolerance is equal to zero, this is not an issue as it reproduces the regular Gibbs sampler. Otherwise, each conditional ABC step amounts to introducing an auxiliary variable represented by the simulated summary statistic. Since the distribution of this summary statistic depends on more than the parameter for which it is sufficient, in general, it should also appear in the conditional distribution of other parameters. At least from this Gibbs perspective, it thus relies on incompatible conditionals, which makes the conditions proposed in our own paper the more relevant.

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