Computational Statistics Theme Day 2024

The “Computational Statistics Theme Day” is a whole-day internal event for the members of the Computational Statistics theme at UCL Statistical Science. The aim of the event is to get everyone together to discuss exciting research directions in the department.

When/where: The event will take place on Tuesday 23rd April 2024 in room 102 at 1-19 Torrington Place.


09:00-09:30 - Welcome
09:30-10:00 - Talk by Petros Dellaportas
10:00-10:30 - Talk by Javier Rubio

10:30-11:00 - Break

11:00-11:30 - Talk by Giampiero Marra
11:30-12:00 - Talk by Karla Diaz Ordaz
12:00-12:30 - Talk by Sam Livingstone

12:30-13:30 - Lunch break
13:30-14:30 - Poster session

14:30-15:00 - Talk by Ioanna Manolopoulou
15:00-15:30 - Talk by F-X Briol

15:30-16:00 - Break

16:00-16:30 - Talk by Alex Beskos
16:30-17:00 - Talk by Jeremias Knoblauch

17:00-onwards - Pub trip at TCR. (Table reserved under F-X Briol).

Titles and abstracts

Speaker: Alex Beskos
Title: Posterior Computation for Gaussian Graphical Models
Abstract: Gaussian graphical models can capture complex dependency structures among variables. For such models, Bayesian inference is attractive as it provides principled ways to incorporate prior information and to quantify uncertainty through the posterior distribution. However, posterior computation under the conjugate G-Wishart prior distribution on the precision matrix is expensive for general non-decomposable graphs. We therefore propose a new Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) method named the “G-Wishart weighted proposal algorithm” (WWA). WWA’s distinctive features include delayed acceptance MCMC, Gibbs updates for the precision matrix and an informed proposal distribution on the graph space that enables embarrassingly parallel computations. Compared to existing approaches, WWA reduces the frequency of the relatively expensive sampling from the G-Wishart distribution. This results in faster MCMC convergence, improved MCMC mixing and reduced computing time. Numerical studies on simulated and real data show that WWA provides a more efficient tool for posterior inference than competing state-of-the-art MCMC algorithms.

Speaker: François-Xavier Briol
Title: Robust and conjugate Gaussian process regression
Abstract: To enable closed form conditioning, a common assumption in Gaussian process (GP) regression is independent and identically distributed Gaussian observation noise. This strong and simplistic assumption is often violated in practice, which leads to unreliable inferences and uncertainty quantification. Unfortunately, existing methods for robustifying GPs break closed-form conditioning, which makes them less attractive to practitioners and significantly more computationally expensive. In this paper, we demonstrate how to perform provably robust and conjugate Gaussian process (RCGP) regression at virtually no additional cost using generalised Bayesian inference. RCGP is particularly versatile as it enables exact conjugate closed form updates in all settings where standard GPs admit them. To demonstrate its strong empirical performance, we deploy RCGP for problems ranging from Bayesian optimisation to sparse variational Gaussian processes.

Speaker: Petros Dellaportas
Title: Can independent Metropolis beat crude Monte Carlo?
Abstract: Assume that we would like to estimate the expected value of a function F with respect to a density pi. We prove that if pi is close enough under KL divergence to another density q, an independent Metropolis sampler estimator that obtains samples from pi with proposal density q, enriched with a variance reduction computational strategy based on control variates, achieves smaller asymptotic variance than that of the crude Monte Carlo estimator. The control variates construction requires no extra computational effort but assumes that the expected value of F under q is analytically available. We illustrate this result by calculating the marginal likelihood in a linear regression model with prior-likelihood conflict and a non-conjugate prior. Furthermore, we propose an adaptive independent Metropolis algorithm that adapts the proposal density such that its KL divergence with the target is being reduced. We demonstrate its applicability in a Bayesian logistic and Gaussian process regression problems and we rigorously justify our asymptotic arguments under easily verifiable and essentially minimal conditions.

Speaker: Karla Diaz Ordaz
Title: TBC
Abstract: TBC \

Speaker: Jeremias Knoblauch
Title: A Rigorous Link between Deep Ensembles and (Variational) Bayesian Methods
Abstract: We establish the first mathematically rigorous link between Bayesian, variational Bayesian, and ensemble methods. A key step towards this is to reformulate the non-convex optimisation problem typically encountered in deep learning as a convex optimisation in the space of probability measures. On a technical level, our contribution amounts to studying generalised variational inference through the lense of Wasserstein gradient flows. The result is a unified theory of various seemingly disconnected approaches that are commonly used for uncertainty quantification in deep learning—including deep ensembles and (variational) Bayesian methods. This offers a fresh perspective on the reasons behind the success of deep ensembles over procedures based on parameterised variational inference, and allows the derivation of new ensembling schemes with convergence guarantees. We showcase this by proposing a family of interacting deep ensembles with direct parallels to the interactions of particle systems in thermodynamics, and use our theory to prove the convergence of these algorithms to a well-defined global minimiser on the space of probability measures.

Speaker: Sam Livingstone
Title: Bayesian variable selection: random neighbourhood samplers and large p asymptotics
Abstract: Choosing which variables to include in a probabilistic model is a classical problem. The Bayesian solution is to place a prior distribution on a model with each possible combination of the p variables under consideration. This leads to a posterior over 2^p possible models. To decide on the best model or average over them for e.g. prediction, this model space must be explored, which can be difficult when p is large. Recently sophisticated Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) algorithms have been proposed for this purpose. Some rely on intelligent global approximations to the posterior, while others consider sophisticated moves within a neighbourhood of the current model. I will argue that in the latter case the choice of neighbourhood is crucial to performance and scalability, and that ideas from the former case can help design such a neighbourhood, leading to algorithms that combine many recently proposed approaches to produce practical and scalable methodology for variable selection. I will then discuss more recent work on convergence of algorithms in the large p regime. Joint work with Xitong Liang and Jim Griffin.

Speaker: Ioanna Manolopoulou
Title: Sampling distributions and partial identifiability in Bayesian modelling
Abstract: In this talk I’ll give an overview of one stream of my research over the past decade and into the future. I will briefly cover 3 separate but connected works. The first concerns modelling binary data which have been observed with inhomogeneous (and unknown) label noise. The second relates to observing a point process through an non-uniform (and unknown) observation model. The third is in causal inference of heterogeneous treatment effects, where the treatment allocation process is unknown. All these models share a important aspect: they are only partially identifiable. Typical Bayesian solutions address this be resolving the identifiability issue through a prior distribution. However, these prior distributions are not always transparent in their knock-on effects on posterior distributions of parameters, and may artificially shrink posterior uncertainty. More recently, modular and semi-modular priors have been proposed in the literature to alleviate these issues. I’d like to explore how heterogeneous noise models are connected to adaptive semi-modular models, and how these techniques can be used most effectively within partially identified models.

Speaker: Giampiero Marra
Title: A Causal Transformation Model for Survival Data Affected by Unobserved Confounding
Abstract: TBC

Speaker: Javier Rubio Alvarez
Title: An informal talk on Bayesian variable selection for models of practical interest
Abstract: I will discuss two examples, motivated by questions of practical interest, where there is a need for selecting active (non-spurious) variables. Answering such questions requires developing (variable selection) methods and corresponding software for the models involved. Bayesian approaches are particularly attractive because they allow for the quantification of both model uncertainty and variable importance. Therefore, I will provide a brief overview of Bayesian variable selection and the computational challenges appearing in these contexts.