Bayesian/frequentist

Peircean Induction and the Error-Correcting Thesis (Part I)

C. S. Peirce: 10 Sept, 1839-19 April, 1914

C. S. Peirce: 10 Sept, 1839-19 April, 1914

Today is C.S. Peirce’s birthday. He’s one of my all time heroes. You should read him: he’s a treasure chest on essentially any topic, and he anticipated several major ideas in statistics (e.g., randomization, confidence intervals) as well as in logic. I’ll reblog the first portion of a (2005) paper of mine. Links to Parts 2 and 3 are at the end. It’s written for a very general philosophical audience; the statistical parts are pretty informal. Happy birthday Peirce.

Peircean Induction and the Error-Correcting Thesis
Deborah G. Mayo
Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal in American Philosophy, Volume 41, Number 2, 2005, pp. 299-319

Peirce’s philosophy of inductive inference in science is based on the idea that what permits us to make progress in science, what allows our knowledge to grow, is the fact that science uses methods that are self-correcting or error-correcting:

Induction is the experimental testing of a theory. The justification of it is that, although the conclusion at any stage of the investigation may be more or less erroneous, yet the further application of the same method must correct the error. (5.145)

Inductive methods—understood as methods of experimental testing—are justified to the extent that they are error-correcting methods. We may call this Peirce’s error-correcting or self-correcting thesis (SCT):

Self-Correcting Thesis SCT: methods for inductive inference in science are error correcting; the justification for inductive methods of experimental testing in science is that they are self-correcting.

Peirce’s SCT has been a source of fascination and frustration. By and large, critics and followers alike have denied that Peirce can sustain his SCT as a way to justify scientific induction: “No part of Peirce’s philosophy of science has been more severely criticized, even by his most sympathetic commentators, than this attempted validation of inductive methodology on the basis of its purported self-correctiveness” (Rescher 1978, p. 20).

In this paper I shall revisit the Peircean SCT: properly interpreted, I will argue, Peirce’s SCT not only serves its intended purpose, it also provides the basis for justifying (frequentist) statistical methods in science. While on the one hand, contemporary statistical methods increase the mathematical rigor and generality of Peirce’s SCT, on the other, Peirce provides something current statistical methodology lacks: an account of inductive inference and a philosophy of experiment that links the justification for statistical tests to a more general rationale for scientific induction. Combining the mathematical contributions of modern statistics with the inductive philosophy of Peirce, sets the stage for developing an adequate justification for contemporary inductive statistical methodology.

2. Probabilities are assigned to procedures not hypotheses

Peirce’s philosophy of experimental testing shares a number of key features with the contemporary (Neyman and Pearson) Statistical Theory: statistical methods provide, not means for assigning degrees of probability, evidential support, or confirmation to hypotheses, but procedures for testing (and estimation), whose rationale is their predesignated high frequencies of leading to correct results in some hypothetical long-run. A Neyman and Pearson (NP) statistical test, for example, instructs us “To decide whether a hypothesis, H, of a given type be rejected or not, calculate a specified character, x0, of the observed facts; if x> x0 reject H; if x< x0 accept H.” Although the outputs of N-P tests do not assign hypotheses degrees of probability, “it may often be proved that if we behave according to such a rule … we shall reject H when it is true not more, say, than once in a hundred times, and in addition we may have evidence that we shall reject H sufficiently often when it is false” (Neyman and Pearson, 1933, p.142).[i]

The relative frequencies of erroneous rejections and erroneous acceptances in an actual or hypothetical long run sequence of applications of tests are error probabilities; we may call the statistical tools based on error probabilities, error statistical tools. In describing his theory of inference, Peirce could be describing that of the error-statistician:

The theory here proposed does not assign any probability to the inductive or hypothetic conclusion, in the sense of undertaking to say how frequently that conclusion would be found true. It does not propose to look through all the possible universes, and say in what proportion of them a certain uniformity occurs; such a proceeding, were it possible, would be quite idle. The theory here presented only says how frequently, in this universe, the special form of induction or hypothesis would lead us right. The probability given by this theory is in every way different—in meaning, numerical value, and form—from that of those who would apply to ampliative inference the doctrine of inverse chances. (2.748)

The doctrine of “inverse chances” alludes to assigning (posterior) probabilities in hypotheses by applying the definition of conditional probability (Bayes’s theorem)—a computation requires starting out with a (prior or “antecedent”) probability assignment to an exhaustive set of hypotheses:

If these antecedent probabilities were solid statistical facts, like those upon which the insurance business rests, the ordinary precepts and practice [of inverse probability] would be sound. But they are not and cannot be statistical facts. What is the antecedent probability that matter should be composed of atoms? Can we take statistics of a multitude of different universes? (2.777)

For Peircean induction, as in the N-P testing model, the conclusion or inference concerns a hypothesis that either is or is not true in this one universe; thus, assigning a frequentist probability to a particular conclusion, other than the trivial ones of 1 or 0, for Peirce, makes sense only “if universes were as plentiful as blackberries” (2.684). Thus the Bayesian inverse probability calculation seems forced to rely on subjective probabilities for computing inverse inferences, but “subjective probabilities” Peirce charges “express nothing but the conformity of a new suggestion to our prepossessions, and these are the source of most of the errors into which man falls, and of all the worse of them” (2.777).

Hearing Pierce contrast his view of induction with the more popular Bayesian account of his day (the Conceptualists), one could be listening to an error statistician arguing against the contemporary Bayesian (subjective or other)—with one important difference. Today’s error statistician seems to grant too readily that the only justification for N-P test rules is their ability to ensure we will rarely take erroneous actions with respect to hypotheses in the long run of applications. This so called inductive behavior rationale seems to supply no adequate answer to the question of what is learned in any particular application about the process underlying the data. Peirce, by contrast, was very clear that what is really wanted in inductive inference in science is the ability to control error probabilities of test procedures, i.e., “the trustworthiness of the proceeding”. Moreover it is only by a faulty analogy with deductive inference, Peirce explains, that many suppose that inductive (synthetic) inference should supply a probability to the conclusion: “… in the case of analytic inference we know the probability of our conclusion (if the premises are true), but in the case of synthetic inferences we only know the degree of trustworthiness of our proceeding (“The Probability of Induction” 2.693).

Knowing the “trustworthiness of our inductive proceeding”, I will argue, enables determining the test’s probative capacity, how reliably it detects errors, and the severity of the test a hypothesis withstands. Deliberately making use of known flaws and fallacies in reasoning with limited and uncertain data, tests may be constructed that are highly trustworthy probes in detecting and discriminating errors in particular cases. This, in turn, enables inferring which inferences about the process giving rise to the data are and are not warranted: an inductive inference to hypothesis H is warranted to the extent that with high probability the test would have detected a specific flaw or departure from what H asserts, and yet it did not.

3. So why is justifying Peirce’s SCT thought to be so problematic?

You can read Section 3 here. (it’s not necessary for understanding the rest).

4. Peircean induction as severe testing

… [I]nduction, for Peirce, is a matter of subjecting hypotheses to “the test of experiment” (7.182).

The process of testing it will consist, not in examining the facts, in order to see how well they accord with the hypothesis, but on the contrary in examining such of the probable consequences of the hypothesis … which would be very unlikely or surprising in case the hypothesis were not true. (7.231)

When, however, we find that prediction after prediction, notwithstanding a preference for putting the most unlikely ones to the test, is verified by experiment,…we begin to accord to the hypothesis a standing among scientific results.

This sort of inference it is, from experiments testing predictions based on a hypothesis, that is alone properly entitled to be called induction. (7.206)

While these and other passages are redolent of Popper, Peirce differs from Popper in crucial ways. Peirce, unlike Popper, is primarily interested not in falsifying claims but in the positive pieces of information provided by tests, with “the corrections called for by the experiment” and with the hypotheses, modified or not, that manage to pass severe tests. For Popper, even if a hypothesis is highly corroborated (by his lights), he regards this as at most a report of the hypothesis’ past performance and denies it affords positive evidence for its correctness or reliability. Further, Popper denies that he could vouch for the reliability of the method he recommends as “most rational”—conjecture and refutation. Indeed, Popper’s requirements for a highly corroborated hypothesis are not sufficient for ensuring severity in Peirce’s sense (Mayo 1996, 2003, 2005). Where Popper recoils from even speaking of warranted inductions, Peirce conceives of a proper inductive inference as what had passed a severe test—one which would, with high probability, have detected an error if present.

In Peirce’s inductive philosophy, we have evidence for inductively inferring a claim or hypothesis H when not only does H “accord with” the data x; but also, so good an accordance would very probably not have resulted, were H not true. In other words, we may inductively infer H when it has withstood a test of experiment that it would not have withstood, or withstood so well, were H not true (or were a specific flaw present). This can be encapsulated in the following severity requirement for an experimental test procedure, ET, and data set x.

Hypothesis H passes a severe test with x iff (firstly) x accords with H and (secondly) the experimental test procedure ET would, with very high probability, have signaled the presence of an error were there a discordancy between what H asserts and what is correct (i.e., were H false).

The test would “have signaled an error” by having produced results less accordant with H than what the test yielded. Thus, we may inductively infer H when (and only when) H has withstood a test with high error detecting capacity, the higher this probative capacity, the more severely H has passed. What is assessed (quantitatively or qualitatively) is not the amount of support for H but the probative capacity of the test of experiment ET (with regard to those errors that an inference to H is declaring to be absent)……….

You can read the rest of Section 4 here here

5. The path from qualitative to quantitative induction

In my understanding of Peircean induction, the difference between qualitative and quantitative induction is really a matter of degree, according to whether their trustworthiness or severity is quantitatively or only qualitatively ascertainable. This reading not only neatly organizes Peirce’s typologies of the various types of induction, it underwrites the manner in which, within a given classification, Peirce further subdivides inductions by their “strength”.

(I) First-Order, Rudimentary or Crude Induction

Consider Peirce’s First Order of induction: the lowest, most rudimentary form that he dubs, the “pooh-pooh argument”. It is essentially an argument from ignorance: Lacking evidence for the falsity of some hypothesis or claim H, provisionally adopt H. In this very weakest sort of induction, crude induction, the most that can be said is that a hypothesis would eventually be falsified if false. (It may correct itself—but with a bang!) It “is as weak an inference as any that I would not positively condemn” (8.237). While uneliminable in ordinary life, Peirce denies that rudimentary induction is to be included as scientific induction. Without some reason to think evidence of H‘s falsity would probably have been detected, were H false, finding no evidence against H is poor inductive evidence for H. H has passed only a highly unreliable error probe.

(II) Second Order (Qualitative) Induction

It is only with what Peirce calls “the Second Order” of induction that we arrive at a genuine test, and thereby scientific induction. Within second order inductions, a stronger and a weaker type exist, corresponding neatly to viewing strength as the severity of a testing procedure.

The weaker of these is where the predictions that are fulfilled are merely of the continuance in future experience of the same phenomena which originally suggested and recommended the hypothesis… (7.116)

The other variety of the argument … is where [results] lead to new predictions being based upon the hypothesis of an entirely different kind from those originally contemplated and these new predictions are equally found to be verified. (7.117)

The weaker type occurs where the predictions, though fulfilled, lack novelty; whereas, the stronger type reflects a more stringent hurdle having been satisfied: the hypothesis has had “novel” predictive success, and thereby higher severity. (For a discussion of the relationship between types of novelty and severity see Mayo 1991, 1996). Note that within a second order induction the assessment of strength is qualitative, e.g., very strong, weak, very weak.

The strength of any argument of the Second Order depends upon how much the confirmation of the prediction runs counter to what our expectation would have been without the hypothesis. It is entirely a question of how much; and yet there is no measurable quantity. For when such measure is possible the argument … becomes an induction of the Third Order [statistical induction]. (7.115)

It is upon these and like passages that I base my reading of Peirce. A qualitative induction, i.e., a test whose severity is qualitatively determined, becomes a quantitative induction when the severity is quantitatively determined; when an objective error probability can be given.

(III) Third Order, Statistical (Quantitative) Induction

We enter the Third Order of statistical or quantitative induction when it is possible to quantify “how much” the prediction runs counter to what our expectation would have been without the hypothesis. In his discussions of such quantifications, Peirce anticipates to a striking degree later developments of statistical testing and confidence interval estimation (Hacking 1980, Mayo 1993, 1996). Since this is not the place to describe his statistical contributions, I move to more modern methods to make the qualitative-quantitative contrast.

6. Quantitative and qualitative induction: significance test reasoning

Quantitative Severity

A statistical significance test illustrates an inductive inference justified by a quantitative severity assessment. The significance test procedure has the following components: (1) a null hypothesis H0, which is an assertion about the distribution of the sample X = (X1, …, Xn), a set of random variables, and (2) a function of the sample, d(x), the test statistic, which reflects the difference between the data x = (x1, …, xn), and null hypothesis H0. The observed value of d(X) is written d(x). The larger the value of d(x) the further the outcome is from what is expected under H0, with respect to the particular question being asked. We can imagine that null hypothesis H0 is

H0: there are no increased cancer risks associated with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in women who have taken them for 10 years.

Let d(x) measure the increased risk of cancer in n women, half of which were randomly assigned to HRT. H0 asserts, in effect, that it is an error to take as genuine any positive value of d(x)—any observed difference is claimed to be “due to chance”. The test computes (3) the p-value, which is the probability of a difference larger than d(x), under the assumption that H0 is true:

p-value = Prob(d(X) > d(x)); H0).

If this probability is very small, the data are taken as evidence that

H*: cancer risks are higher in women treated with HRT

The reasoning is a statistical version of modes tollens.

If the hypothesis H0 is correct then, with high probability, 1- p, the data would not be statistically significant at level p.

x is statistically significant at level p.

Therefore, x is evidence of a discrepancy from H0, in the direction of an alternative hypothesis H.

(i.e., H* severely passes, where the severity is 1 minus the p-value)[iii]

For example, the results of recent, large, randomized treatment-control studies showing statistically significant increased risks (at the 0.001 level) give strong evidence that HRT, taken for over 5 years, increases the chance of breast cancer, the severity being 0.999. If a particular conclusion is wrong, subsequent severe (or highly powerful) tests will with high probability detect it. In particular, if we are wrong to reject H0 (and H0 is actually true), we would find we were rarely able to get so statistically significant a result to recur, and in this way we would discover our original error.

It is true that the observed conformity of the facts to the requirements of the hypothesis may have been fortuitous. But if so, we have only to persist in this same method of research and we shall gradually be brought around to the truth. (7.115)

The correction is not a matter of getting higher and higher probabilities, it is a matter of finding out whether the agreement is fortuitous; whether it is generated about as often as would be expected were the agreement of the chance variety.

[Part 2 and Part 3 are here; you can find the full paper here.]

REFERENCES:

Hacking, I. 1980 “The Theory of Probable Inference: Neyman, Peirce and Braithwaite”, pp. 141-160 in D. H. Mellor (ed.), Science, Belief and Behavior: Essays in Honour of R.B. Braithwaite. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Laudan, L. 1981 Science and Hypothesis: Historical Essays on Scientific Methodology. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.

Levi, I. 1980 “Induction as Self Correcting According to Peirce”, pp. 127-140 in D. H. Mellor (ed.), Science, Belief and Behavior: Essays in Honor of R.B. Braithwaite. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mayo, D. 1991 “Novel Evidence and Severe Tests”, Philosophy of Science, 58: 523-552.

———- 1993 “The Test of Experiment: C. S. Peirce and E. S. Pearson”, pp. 161-174 in E. C. Moore (ed.), Charles S. Peirce and the Philosophy of Science. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

——— 1996 Error and the Growth of Experimental Knowledge, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

———–2003 “Severe Testing as a Guide for Inductive Learning”, in H. Kyburg (ed.), Probability Is the Very Guide in Life. Chicago: Open Court Press, pp. 89-117.

———- 2005 “Evidence as Passing Severe Tests: Highly Probed vs. Highly Proved” in P. Achinstein (ed.), Scientific Evidence, Johns Hopkins University Press.

Mayo, D. and Kruse, M. 2001 “Principles of Inference and Their Consequences,” pp. 381-403 in Foundations of Bayesianism, D. Cornfield and J. Williamson (eds.), Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Mayo, D. and Spanos, A. 2004 “Methodology in Practice: Statistical Misspecification Testing” Philosophy of Science, Vol. II, PSA 2002, pp. 1007-1025.

———- (2006). “Severe Testing as a Basic Concept in a Neyman-Pearson Theory of Induction”, The British Journal of Philosophy of Science 57: 323-357.

Mayo, D. and Cox, D.R. 2006 “The Theory of Statistics as the ‘Frequentist’s’ Theory of Inductive Inference”, Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS) Lecture Notes-Monograph Series, Contributions to the Second Lehmann Symposium, 2005.

Neyman, J. and Pearson, E.S. 1933 “On the Problem of the Most Efficient Tests of Statistical Hypotheses”, in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, A: 231, 289-337, as reprinted in J. Neyman and E.S. Pearson (1967), pp. 140-185.

———- 1967 Joint Statistical Papers, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Niiniluoto, I. 1984 Is Science Progressive? Dordrecht: D. Reidel.

Peirce, C. S. Collected Papers: Vols. I-VI, C. Hartshorne and P. Weiss (eds.) (1931-1935). Vols. VII-VIII, A. Burks (ed.) (1958), Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Popper, K. 1962 Conjectures and Refutations: the Growth of Scientific Knowledge, Basic Books, New York.

Rescher, N.  1978 Peirce’s Philosophy of Science: Critical Studies in His Theory of Induction and Scientific Method, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.


[i] Others who relate Peircean induction and Neyman-Pearson tests are Isaac Levi (1980) and Ian Hacking (1980). See also Mayo 1993 and 1996.

[ii] This statement of (b) is regarded by Laudan as the strong thesis of self-correcting. A weaker thesis would replace (b) with (b’): science has techniques for determining unambiguously whether an alternative T’ is closer to the truth than a refuted T.

[iii] If the p-value were not very small, then the difference would be considered statistically insignificant (generally small values are 0.1 or less). We would then regard H0 as consistent with data x, but we may wish to go further and determine the size of an increased risk r that has thereby been ruled out with severity. We do so by finding a risk increase, such that, Prob(d(X) > d(x); risk increase r) is high, say. Then the assertion: the risk increase < r passes with high severity, we would argue.

If there were a discrepancy from hypothesis H0 of r (or more), then, with high probability,1-p, the data would be statistically significant at level p.

x is not statistically significant at level p.

Therefore, x is evidence than any discrepancy from H0 is less than r.

For a general treatment of effect size, see Mayo and Spanos (2006).

[Ed. Note: A not bad biographical sketch can be found on wikipedia.]

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, C.S. Peirce, Error Statistics, Statistics | 18 Comments

TragiComedy hour: P-values vs posterior probabilities vs diagnostic error rates

Did you hear the one about the frequentist significance tester when he was shown the nonfrequentist nature of p-values?

Critic: I just simulated a long series of tests on a pool of null hypotheses, and I found that among tests with p-values of .05, at least 22%—and typically over 50%—of the null hypotheses are true!

Frequentist Significance Tester: Scratches head: But rejecting the null with a p-value of .05 ensures erroneous rejection no more than 5% of the time!

Raucous laughter ensues!

(Hah, hah… “So funny, I forgot to laugh! Or, I’m crying and laughing at the same time!) Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Comedy, significance tests, Statistics | 8 Comments

Er, about those “other statistical approaches”: Hold off until a balanced critique is in?

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I could have told them that the degree of accordance enabling the “6 principles” on p-values was unlikely to be replicated when it came to most of the “other approaches” with which some would supplement or replace significance tests– notably Bayesian updating, Bayes factors, or likelihood ratios (confidence intervals are dual to hypotheses tests). [My commentary is here.] So now they may be advising a “hold off” or “go slow” approach until some consilience is achieved. Is that it? I don’t know. I was tweeted an article about the background chatter taking place behind the scenes; I wasn’t one of people interviewed for this. Here are some excerpts, I may add more later after it has had time to sink in. (check back later)

“Reaching for Best Practices in Statistics: Proceed with Caution Until a Balanced Critique Is In”

J. Hossiason

“[A]ll of the other approaches*, as well as most statistical tools, may suffer from many of the same problems as the p-values do. What level of likelihood ratio in favor of the research hypothesis will be acceptable to the journal? Should scientific discoveries be based on whether posterior odds pass a specific threshold (P3)? Does either measure the size of an effect (P5)?…How can we decide about the sample size needed for a clinical trial—however analyzed—if we do not set a specific bright-line decision rule? 95% confidence intervals or credence intervals…offer no protection against selection when only those that do not cover 0, are selected into the abstract (P4). (Benjamini, ASA commentary, pp. 3-4)

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander right?  Many statisticians seconded George Cobb who urged “the board to set aside time at least once every year to consider the potential value of similar statements” to the recent ASA p-value report. Disappointingly, a preliminary survey of leaders in statistics, many from the original p-value group, aired striking disagreements on best and worst practices with respect to these other approaches. The Executive Board is contemplating a variety of recommendations, minimally, Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Statistics | 84 Comments

“P-values overstate the evidence against the null”: legit or fallacious?

The allegation that P-values overstate the evidence against the null hypothesis continues to be taken as gospel in discussions of significance tests. All such discussions, however, assume a notion of “evidence” that’s at odds with significance tests–generally likelihood ratios, or Bayesian posterior probabilities (conventional or of the “I’m selecting hypotheses from an urn of nulls” variety). I’m reblogging the bulk of an earlier post as background for a new post to appear tomorrow.  It’s not that a single small P-value provides good evidence of a discrepancy (even assuming the model, and no biasing selection effects); Fisher and others warned against over-interpreting an “isolated” small P-value long ago.  The problem is that the current formulation of the “P-values overstate the evidence” meme is attached to a sleight of hand (on meanings) that is introducing brand new misinterpretations into an already confused literature! 

 

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, fallacy of rejection, highly probable vs highly probed, P-values | 3 Comments

“On the Brittleness of Bayesian Inference,” Owhadi, Scovel, and Sullivan (PUBLISHED)

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The record number of hits on this blog goes to “When Bayesian Inference shatters,” where Houman Owhadi presents a “Plain Jane” explanation of results now published in “On the Brittleness of Bayesian Inference”. A follow-up was 1 year ago. Here’s how their paper begins:

 

 

owhadi

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Houman Owhadi
Professor of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Control and Dynamical Systems, Computing + Mathematical Sciences,
California Institute of Technology, USA+

Clintpic

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Clint Scovel
Senior Scientist,

Computing + Mathematical Sciences,
California Institute of Technology, USA
TimSullivan

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Tim Sullivan

Warwick Zeeman Lecturer,
Assistant Professor,
Mathematics Institute,
University of Warwick, UK

 

 

“On the Brittleness of Bayesian Inference”

ABSTRACT: With the advent of high-performance computing, Bayesian methods are becoming increasingly popular tools for the quantification of uncertainty throughout science and industry. Since these methods can impact the making of sometimes critical decisions in increasingly complicated contexts, the sensitivity of their posterior conclusions with respect to the underlying models and prior beliefs is a pressing question to which there currently exist positive and negative answers. We report new results suggesting that, although Bayesian methods are robust when the number of possible outcomes is finite or when only a finite number of marginals of the data-generating distribution are unknown, they could be generically brittle when applied to continuous systems (and their discretizations) with finite information on the data-generating distribution. If closeness is defined in terms of the total variation (TV) metric or the matching of a finite system of generalized moments, then (1) two practitioners who use arbitrarily close models and observe the same (possibly arbitrarily large amount of) data may reach opposite conclusions; and (2) any given prior and model can be slightly perturbed to achieve any desired posterior conclusion. The mechanism causing brittleness/robustness suggests that learning and robustness are antagonistic requirements, which raises the possibility of a missing stability condition when using Bayesian inference in a continuous world under finite information.

© 2015, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Permalink: http://dx.doi.org/10.1137/130938633 Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Statistics | 16 Comments

Gelman on ‘Gathering of philosophers and physicists unaware of modern reconciliation of Bayes and Popper’

 I’m reblogging Gelman’s post today: “Gathering of philosophers and physicists unaware of modern reconciliation of Bayes and Popper”. I concur with Gelman’s arguments against all Bayesian “inductive support” philosophies, and welcome the Gelman and Shalizi (2013) ‘meeting of the minds’ between an error statistical philosophy and Bayesian falsification (which I regard as a kind of error statistical Bayesianism). Just how radical a challenge these developments pose to other stripes of Bayesianism has yet to be explored. My comment on them is here.

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“Gathering of philosophers and physicists unaware of modern reconciliation of Bayes and Popper” by Andrew Gelman

Hiro Minato points us to a news article by physicist Natalie Wolchover entitled “A Fight for the Soul of Science.”

I have no problem with most of the article, which is a report about controversies within physics regarding the purported untestability of physics models such as string theory (as for example discussed by my Columbia colleague Peter Woit). Wolchover writes:

Whether the fault lies with theorists for getting carried away, or with nature, for burying its best secrets, the conclusion is the same: Theory has detached itself from experiment. The objects of theoretical speculation are now too far away, too small, too energetic or too far in the past to reach or rule out with our earthly instruments. . . .

Over three mild winter days, scholars grappled with the meaning of theory, confirmation and truth; how science works; and whether, in this day and age, philosophy should guide research in physics or the other way around. . . .

To social and behavioral scientists, this is all an old old story. Concepts such as personality, political ideology, and social roles are undeniably important but only indirectly related to any measurements. In social science we’ve forever been in the unavoidable position of theorizing without sharp confirmation or falsification, and, indeed, unfalsifiable theories such as Freudian psychology and rational choice theory have been central to our understanding of much of the social world.

But then somewhere along the way the discussion goes astray: Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Error Statistics, Gelman, Shalizi, Statistics | 20 Comments

Return to the Comedy Hour: P-values vs posterior probabilities (1)

Comedy Hour

Comedy Hour

Did you hear the one about the frequentist significance tester when he was shown the nonfrequentist nature of p-values?

JB [Jim Berger]: I just simulated a long series of tests on a pool of null hypotheses, and I found that among tests with p-values of .05, at least 22%—and typically over 50%—of the null hypotheses are true!(1)

Frequentist Significance Tester: Scratches head: But rejecting the null with a p-value of .05 ensures erroneous rejection no more than 5% of the time!

Raucous laughter ensues!

(Hah, hah,…. I feel I’m back in high school: “So funny, I forgot to laugh!)

The frequentist tester should retort:

Frequentist Significance Tester: But you assumed 50% of the null hypotheses are true, and  computed P(H0|x) (imagining P(H0)= .5)—and then assumed my p-value should agree with the number you get, if it is not to be misleading!

Yet, our significance tester is not heard from as they move on to the next joke…. Continue reading

Categories: Statistics, Comedy, significance tests, Bayesian/frequentist, PBP | 27 Comments

S. McKinney: On Efron’s “Frequentist Accuracy of Bayesian Estimates” (Guest Post)

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Steven McKinney, Ph.D.
Statistician
Molecular Oncology and Breast Cancer Program
British Columbia Cancer Research Centre

                    

On Bradley Efron’s: “Frequentist Accuracy of Bayesian Estimates”

Bradley Efron has produced another fine set of results, yielding a valuable estimate of variability for a Bayesian estimate derived from a Markov Chain Monte Carlo algorithm, in his latest paper “Frequentist accuracy of Bayesian estimates” (J. R. Statist. Soc. B (2015) 77, Part 3, pp. 617–646). I give a general overview of Efron’s brilliance via his Introduction discussion (his words “in double quotes”).

“1. Introduction

The past two decades have witnessed a greatly increased use of Bayesian techniques in statistical applications. Objective Bayes methods, based on neutral or uniformative priors of the type pioneered by Jeffreys, dominate these applications, carried forward on a wave of popularity for Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) algorithms. Good references include Ghosh (2011), Berger (2006) and Kass and Wasserman (1996).”

A nice concise summary, one that should bring joy to anyone interested in Bayesian methods after all the Bayesian-bashing of the middle 20th century. Efron himself has crafted many beautiful results in the Empirical Bayes arena. He has reviewed important differences between Bayesian and frequentist outcomes that point to some as-yet unsettled issues in statistical theory and philosophy such as his scales of evidence work. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, objective Bayesians, Statistics | 44 Comments

Statistical “reforms” without philosophy are blind (v update)

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Is it possible, today, to have a fair-minded engagement with debates over statistical foundations? I’m not sure, but I know it is becoming of pressing importance to try. Increasingly, people are getting serious about methodological reforms—some are quite welcome, others are quite radical. Too rarely do the reformers bring out the philosophical presuppositions of the criticisms and proposed improvements. Today’s (radical?) reform movements are typically launched from criticisms of statistical significance tests and P-values, so I focus on them. Regular readers know how often the P-value (that most unpopular girl in the class) has made her appearance on this blog. Here, I tried to quickly jot down some queries. (Look for later installments and links.) What are some key questions we need to ask to tell what’s true about today’s criticisms of P-values? 

I. To get at philosophical underpinnings, the single most import question is this:

(1) Do the debaters distinguish different views of the nature of statistical inference and the roles of probability in learning from data? Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Error Statistics, P-values, significance tests, Statistics, strong likelihood principle | 193 Comments

Oy Faye! What are the odds of not conflating simple conditional probability and likelihood with Bayesian success stories?

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Faye Flam

ONE YEAR AGO, the NYT “Science Times” (9/29/14) published Fay Flam’s article, first blogged here.

Congratulations to Faye Flam for finally getting her article published at the Science Times at the New York Times, “The odds, continually updated” after months of reworking and editing, interviewing and reinterviewing. I’m grateful that one remark from me remained. Seriously I am. A few comments: The Monty Hall example is simple probability not statistics, and finding that fisherman who floated on his boots at best used likelihoods. I might note, too, that critiquing that ultra-silly example about ovulation and voting–a study so bad they actually had to pull it at CNN due to reader complaints[i]–scarcely required more than noticing the researchers didn’t even know the women were ovulating[ii]. Experimental design is an old area of statistics developed by frequentists; on the other hand, these ovulation researchers really believe their theory (and can point to a huge literature)….. Anyway, I should stop kvetching and thank Faye and the NYT for doing the article at all[iii]. Here are some excerpts:

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silly pic that accompanied the NYT article

…….When people think of statistics, they may imagine lists of numbers — batting averages or life-insurance tables. But the current debate is about how scientists turn data into knowledge, evidence and predictions. Concern has been growing in recent years that some fields are not doing a very good job at this sort of inference. In 2012, for example, a team at the biotech company Amgen announced that they’d analyzed 53 cancer studies and found it could not replicate 47 of them.

Similar follow-up analyses have cast doubt on so many findings in fields such as neuroscience and social science that researchers talk about a “replication crisis”

Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Statistics | Leave a comment

(Part 2) Peircean Induction and the Error-Correcting Thesis

C. S. Peirce 9/10/1839 – 4/19/1914

C. S. Peirce
9/10/1839 – 4/19/1914

Continuation of “Peircean Induction and the Error-Correcting Thesis”

Deborah G. Mayo
Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal in American Philosophy, Volume 41, Number 2, 2005, pp. 299-319

Part 1 is here.

There are two other points of confusion in critical discussions of the SCT, that we may note here:

I. The SCT and the Requirements of Randomization and Predesignation

The concern with “the trustworthiness of the proceeding” for Peirce like the concern with error probabilities (e.g., significance levels) for error statisticians generally, is directly tied to their view that inductive method should closely link inferences to the methods of data collection as well as to how the hypothesis came to be formulated or chosen for testing.

This account of the rationale of induction is distinguished from others in that it has as its consequences two rules of inductive inference which are very frequently violated (1.95) namely, that the sample be (approximately) random and that the property being tested not be determined by the particular sample x— i.e., predesignation.

The picture of Peircean induction that one finds in critics of the SCT disregards these crucial requirements for induction: Neither enumerative induction nor H-D testing, as ordinarily conceived, requires such rules. Statistical significance testing, however, clearly does. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, C.S. Peirce, Error Statistics, Statistics | Leave a comment

Peircean Induction and the Error-Correcting Thesis (Part I)

C. S. Peirce: 10 Sept, 1839-19 April, 1914

C. S. Peirce: 10 Sept, 1839-19 April, 1914

Yesterday was C.S. Peirce’s birthday. He’s one of my all time heroes. You should read him: he’s a treasure chest on essentially any topic. I only recently discovered a passage where Popper calls Peirce one of the greatest philosophical thinkers ever (I don’t have it handy). If Popper had taken a few more pages from Peirce, he would have seen how to solve many of the problems in his work on scientific inference, probability, and severe testing. I’ll blog the main sections of a (2005) paper of mine over the next few days. It’s written for a very general philosophical audience; the statistical parts are pretty informal. I first posted it in 2013Happy (slightly belated) Birthday Peirce.

Peircean Induction and the Error-Correcting Thesis
Deborah G. Mayo
Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal in American Philosophy, Volume 41, Number 2, 2005, pp. 299-319

Peirce’s philosophy of inductive inference in science is based on the idea that what permits us to make progress in science, what allows our knowledge to grow, is the fact that science uses methods that are self-correcting or error-correcting:

Induction is the experimental testing of a theory. The justification of it is that, although the conclusion at any stage of the investigation may be more or less erroneous, yet the further application of the same method must correct the error. (5.145)

Inductive methods—understood as methods of experimental testing—are justified to the extent that they are error-correcting methods. We may call this Peirce’s error-correcting or self-correcting thesis (SCT):

Self-Correcting Thesis SCT: methods for inductive inference in science are error correcting; the justification for inductive methods of experimental testing in science is that they are self-correcting. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, C.S. Peirce, Error Statistics, Statistics | Leave a comment

Can You change Your Bayesian prior? (ii)

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This is one of the questions high on the “To Do” list I’ve been keeping for this blog.  The question grew out of discussions of “updating and downdating” in relation to papers by Stephen Senn (2011) and Andrew Gelman (2011) in Rationality, Markets, and Morals.[i]

“As an exercise in mathematics [computing a posterior based on the client’s prior probabilities] is not superior to showing the client the data, eliciting a posterior distribution and then calculating the prior distribution; as an exercise in inference Bayesian updating does not appear to have greater claims than ‘downdating’.” (Senn, 2011, p. 59)

“If you could really express your uncertainty as a prior distribution, then you could just as well observe data and directly write your subjective posterior distribution, and there would be no need for statistical analysis at all.” (Gelman, 2011, p. 77)

But if uncertainty is not expressible as a prior, then a major lynchpin for Bayesian updating seems questionable. If you can go from the posterior to the prior, on the other hand, perhaps it can also lead you to come back and change it.

Is it legitimate to change one’s prior based on the data?

I don’t mean update it, but reject the one you had and replace it with another. My question may yield different answers depending on the particular Bayesian view. I am prepared to restrict the entire question of changing priors to Bayesian “probabilisms”, meaning the inference takes the form of updating priors to yield posteriors, or to report a comparative Bayes factor. Interpretations can vary. In many Bayesian accounts the prior probability distribution is a way of introducing prior beliefs into the analysis (as with subjective Bayesians) or, conversely, to avoid introducing prior beliefs (as with reference or conventional priors). Empirical Bayesians employ frequentist priors based on similar studies or well established theory. There are many other variants.

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S. SENN: According to Senn, one test of whether an approach is Bayesian is that while Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Gelman, S. Senn, Statistics | 111 Comments

From our “Philosophy of Statistics” session: APS 2015 convention

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“The Philosophy of Statistics: Bayesianism, Frequentism and the Nature of Inference,” at the 2015 American Psychological Society (APS) Annual Convention in NYC, May 23, 2015:

 

D. Mayo: “Error Statistical Control: Forfeit at your Peril” 

 

S. Senn: “‘Repligate’: reproducibility in statistical studies. What does it mean and in what sense does it matter?”

 

A. Gelman: “The statistical crisis in science” (this is not his exact presentation, but he focussed on some of these slides)

 

For more details see this post.

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Error Statistics, P-values, reforming the reformers, reproducibility, S. Senn, Statistics | 10 Comments

Philosophy of Statistics Comes to the Big Apple! APS 2015 Annual Convention — NYC

Start Spreading the News…..

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 The Philosophy of Statistics: Bayesianism, Frequentism and the Nature of Inference,
2015 APS Annual Convention
Saturday, May 23  
2:00 PM- 3:50 PM in Wilder

(Marriott Marquis 1535 B’way)

 

 

gelman5

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Andrew Gelman

Professor of Statistics & Political Science
Columbia University

SENN FEB

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Stephen Senn

Head of Competence Center
for Methodology and Statistics (CCMS)

Luxembourg Institute of Health

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Slide1

D. Mayo headshot

D.G. Mayo, Philosopher


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Richard Morey, Session Chair & Discussant

Senior Lecturer
School of Psychology
Cardiff University
Categories: Announcement, Bayesian/frequentist, Statistics | 8 Comments

Joan Clarke, Turing, I.J. Good, and “that after-dinner comedy hour…”

I finally saw The Imitation Game about Alan Turing and code-breaking at Bletchley Park during WWII. This short clip of Joan Clarke, who was engaged to Turing, includes my late colleague I.J. Good at the end (he’s not second as the clip lists him). Good used to talk a great deal about Bletchley Park and his code-breaking feats while asleep there (see note[a]), but I never imagined Turing’s code-breaking machine (which, by the way, was called the Bombe and not Christopher as in the movie) was so clunky. The movie itself has two tiny scenes including Good. Below I reblog: “Who is Allowed to Cheat?”—one of the topics he and I debated over the years. Links to the full “Savage Forum” (1962) may be found at the end (creaky, but better than nothing.)

[a]”Some sensitive or important Enigma messages were enciphered twice, once in a special variation cipher and again in the normal cipher. …Good dreamed one night that the process had been reversed: normal cipher first, special cipher second. When he woke up he tried his theory on an unbroken message – and promptly broke it.” This, and further examples may be found in this obituary

[b] Pictures comparing the movie cast and the real people may be found here. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, optional stopping, Statistics, strong likelihood principle | 6 Comments

What’s wrong with taking (1 – β)/α, as a likelihood ratio comparing H0 and H1?

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Here’s a quick note on something that I often find in discussions on tests, even though it treats “power”, which is a capacity-of-test notion, as if it were a fit-with-data notion…..

1. Take a one-sided Normal test T+: with n iid samples:

H0: µ ≤  0 against H1: µ >  0

σ = 10,  n = 100,  σ/√n =σx= 1,  α = .025.

So the test would reject H0 iff Z > c.025 =1.96. (1.96. is the “cut-off”.)

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  1. Simple rules for alternatives against which T+ has high power:
  • If we add σx (here 1) to the cut-off (here, 1.96) we are at an alternative value for µ that test T+ has .84 power to detect.
  • If we add 3σto the cut-off we are at an alternative value for µ that test T+ has ~ .999 power to detect. This value, which we can write as µ.999 = 4.96

Let the observed outcome just reach the cut-off to reject the null,z= 1.96.

If we were to form a “likelihood ratio” of μ = 4.96 compared to μ0 = 0 using

[Power(T+, 4.96)]/α,

it would be 40.  (.999/.025).

It is absurd to say the alternative 4.96 is supported 40 times as much as the null, understanding support as likelihood or comparative likelihood. (The data 1.96 are even closer to 0 than to 4.96). The same point can be made with less extreme cases.) What is commonly done next is to assign priors of .5 to the two hypotheses, yielding

Pr(H0 |z0) = 1/ (1 + 40) = .024, so Pr(H1 |z0) = .976.

Such an inference is highly unwarranted and would almost always be wrong. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, law of likelihood, Statistical power, statistical tests, Statistics, Stephen Senn | 87 Comments

On the Brittleness of Bayesian Inference–An Update: Owhadi and Scovel (guest post)

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Houman Owhadi

Professor of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Control and Dynamical Systems,
Computing + Mathematical Sciences
California Institute of Technology, USA

 

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Clint Scovel
Senior Scientist,
Computing + Mathematical Sciences
California Institute of Technology, USA

 

 “On the Brittleness of Bayesian Inference: An Update”

Dear Readers,

This is an update on the results discussed in http://arxiv.org/abs/1308.6306 (“On the Brittleness of Bayesian Inference”) and a high level presentation of the more  recent paper “Qualitative Robustness in Bayesian Inference” available at http://arxiv.org/abs/1411.3984.

In http://arxiv.org/abs/1304.6772 we looked at the robustness of Bayesian Inference in the classical framework of Bayesian Sensitivity Analysis. In that (classical) framework, the data is fixed, and one computes optimal bounds on (i.e. the sensitivity of) posterior values with respect to variations of the prior in a given class of priors. Now it is already well established that when the class of priors is finite-dimensional then one obtains robustness.  What we observe is that, under general conditions, when the class of priors is finite codimensional, then the optimal bounds on posterior are as large as possible, no matter the number of data points.

Our motivation for specifying a finite co-dimensional  class of priors is to look at what classical Bayesian sensitivity  analysis would conclude under finite  information and the best way to understand this notion of “brittleness under finite information”  is through the simple example already given in https://errorstatistics.com/2013/09/14/when-bayesian-inference-shatters-owhadi-scovel-and-sullivan-guest-post/ and recalled in Example 1. The mechanism causing this “brittleness” has its origin in the fact that, in classical Bayesian Sensitivity Analysis, optimal bounds on posterior values are computed after the observation of the specific value of the data, and that the probability of observing the data under some feasible prior may be arbitrarily small (see Example 2 for an illustration of this phenomenon). This data dependence of worst priors is inherent to this classical framework and the resulting brittleness under finite-information can be seen as an extreme occurrence of the dilation phenomenon (the fact that optimal bounds on prior values may become less precise after conditioning) observed in classical robust Bayesian inference [6]. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Statistics | 13 Comments

“When Bayesian Inference Shatters” Owhadi, Scovel, and Sullivan (reblog)

images-9I’m about to post an update of this, most viewed, blogpost, so I reblog it here as a refresher. If interested, you might check the original discussion.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

I am grateful to Drs. Owhadi, Scovel and Sullivan for replying to my request for “a plain Jane” explication of their interesting paper, “When Bayesian Inference Shatters”, and especially for permission to post it. 

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owhadiHouman Owhadi
Professor of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Control and Dynamical Systems, Computing + Mathematical Sciences,
California Institute of Technology, USA
 Clint Scovel
ClintpicSenior Scientist,
Computing + Mathematical Sciences,
California Institute of Technology, USA
TimSullivanTim Sullivan
Warwick Zeeman Lecturer,
Assistant Professor,
Mathematics Institute,
University of Warwick, UK

“When Bayesian Inference Shatters: A plain Jane explanation”

This is an attempt at a “plain Jane” presentation of the results discussed in the recent arxiv paper “When Bayesian Inference Shatters” located at http://arxiv.org/abs/1308.6306 with the following abstract:

“With the advent of high-performance computing, Bayesian methods are increasingly popular tools for the quantification of uncertainty throughout science and industry. Since these methods impact the making of sometimes critical decisions in increasingly complicated contexts, the sensitivity of their posterior conclusions with respect to the underlying models and prior beliefs is becoming a pressing question. We report new results suggesting that, although Bayesian methods are robust when the number of possible outcomes is finite or when only a finite number of marginals of the data-generating distribution are unknown, they are generically brittle when applied to continuous systems with finite information on the data-generating distribution. This brittleness persists beyond the discretization of continuous systems and suggests that Bayesian inference is generically ill-posed in the sense of Hadamard when applied to such systems: if closeness is defined in terms of the total variation metric or the matching of a finite system of moments, then (1) two practitioners who use arbitrarily close models and observe the same (possibly arbitrarily large amount of) data may reach diametrically opposite conclusions; and (2) any given prior and model can be slightly perturbed to achieve any desired posterior conclusions.”

Now, it is already known from classical Robust Bayesian Inference that Bayesian Inference has some robustness if the random outcomes live in a finite space or if the class of priors considered is finite-dimensional (i.e. what you know is infinite and what you do not know is finite). What we have shown is that if the random outcomes live in an approximation of a continuous space (for instance, when they are decimal numbers given to finite precision) and your class of priors is finite co-dimensional (i.e. what you know is finite and what you do not know may be infinite) then, if the data is observed at a fine enough resolution, the range of posterior values is the deterministic range of the quantity of interest, irrespective of the size of the data. Continue reading

Categories: 3-year memory lane, Bayesian/frequentist, Statistics | 1 Comment

“Probing with Severity: Beyond Bayesian Probabilism and Frequentist Performance” (Dec 3 Seminar slides)

(May 4) 7 Deborah Mayo  “Ontology & Methodology in Statistical Modeling”Below are the slides from my Rutgers seminar for the Department of Statistics and Biostatistics yesterday, since some people have been asking me for them. The abstract is here. I don’t know how explanatory a bare outline like this can be, but I’d be glad to try and answer questions[i]. I am impressed at how interested in foundational matters I found the statisticians (both faculty and students) to be. (There were even a few philosophers in attendance.) It was especially interesting to explore, prior to the seminar, possible connections between severity assessments and confidence distributions, where the latter are along the lines of Min-ge Xie (some recent papers of his may be found here.)

“Probing with Severity: Beyond Bayesian Probabilism and Frequentist Performance”

[i]They had requested a general overview of some issues in philosophical foundations of statistics. Much of this will be familiar to readers of this blog.

 

 

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Error Statistics, Statistics | 11 Comments

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