EP-ABC: Expectation-Propagation for Likelihood-Free Inference­ (Nicolas Chopin-CREST)

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EP-ABC: Expectation-Propagation for Likelihood-Free Inference

Many models of interest in the natural and social sciences have no closed-form likelihood function, which means that they cannot be treated using the usual techniques of statistical inference. In the case where such models can be efficiently simulated, Bayesian inference is still possible thanks to the Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC) algorithm. Although many refinements have been suggested, ABC inference is still far from routine. ABC is often excruciatingly slow due to very low acceptance rates. In addition, ABC requires introducing a vector of "summary statistics", the choice of which is relatively arbitrary, and often require some trial and error, making the whole process quite laborious for the user. We introduce in this work the EP-ABC algorithm, which is an adaptation to the likelihood-free context of the variational approximation algorithm known as Expectation Propagation (Minka, 2001). The main advantage of EP-ABC is that it is faster by a few orders of magnitude than standard algorithms, while producing an overall approximation error which is typically negligible. A second advantage of EP-ABC is that it replaces the usual global ABC constraint on the vector of summary statistics computed on the whole dataset, by n local constraints of the form that apply separately to each data-point. As a consequence, it is often possible to do away with summary statistics entirely. In that case, EP-ABC approximates directly the evidence (marginal likelihood) of the model. Comparisons are performed in three real-world applications which are typical of likelihood-free inference, including one application inneuroscience which is novel, and possibly too challenging for standard ABC techniques. I will also mention briefly new applications of EP-ABC we are currently working on, in population genetics and in spatial modelling. (joint work  withSimon Barthelmé, plus some on-going work with Jean-Michel Marin, Pierre Pudlo, Magal Beffi, and Erlis Ruli)

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