## The scala-smfsb library

In the previous post I gave a very quick introduction to the smfsb R package. As mentioned in that post, although good for teaching and learning, R isn’t a great language for serious scientific computing or computational statistics. So for the publication of the third edition of my textbook, Stochastic modelling for systems biology, I have created a library in the Scala programming language replicating the functionality provided by the R package. Here I will give a very quick introduction to the scala-smfsb library. Some familiarity with both Scala and the smfsb R package will be helpful, but is not strictly necessary. Note that the library relies on the Scala Breeze library for linear algebra and probability distributions, so some familiarity with that library can also be helpful.

## Setup

To follow the along you need to have Sbt installed, and this in turn requires a recent JDK. If you are new to Scala, you may find the setup page for my Scala course to be useful, but note that on many Linux systems it can be as simple as installing the packages openjdk-8-jdk and sbt.

Once you have Sbt installed, you should be able to run it by entering sbt at your OS command line. You now need to use Sbt to create a Scala REPL with a dependency on the scala-smfsb library. There are many ways to do this, but if you are new to Scala, the simplest way is probably to start up Sbt from an empty or temporary directory (which doesn’t contain any Scala code), and then paste the following into the Sbt prompt:

set libraryDependencies += "com.github.darrenjw" %% "scala-smfsb" % "0.6"
set libraryDependencies += "org.scalanlp" %% "breeze-viz" % "0.13.2"
set scalaVersion := "2.12.6"
set scalacOptions += "-Yrepl-class-based"
console


The first time you run this it will take a little while to download and cache various library dependencies. But everything is cached, so it should be much quicker in future. When it is finished, you should have a Scala REPL ready to enter Scala code.

## An introduction to scala-smfsb

It should be possible to type or copy-and-paste the commands below one-at-a-time into the Scala REPL. We need to start with a few imports.

import smfsb._
import breeze.linalg.{Vector => BVec, _}
import breeze.numerics._
import breeze.plot._


Note that I’ve renamed Breeze’s Vector type to BVec to avoid clashing with that in the Scala standard library. We are now ready to go.

### Simulating models

Let’s begin by instantiating a Lotka-Volterra model, simulating a single realisation of the process, and then plotting it.

// Simulate LV with Gillespie
val model = SpnModels.lv[IntState]()
val step = Step.gillespie(model)
val ts = Sim.ts(DenseVector(50, 100), 0.0, 20.0, 0.05, step)
Sim.plotTs(ts, "Gillespie simulation of LV model with default parameters")


The library comes with a few other models. There’s a Michaelis-Menten enzyme kinetics model:

// Simulate other models with Gillespie
val stepMM = Step.gillespie(SpnModels.mm[IntState]())
val tsMM = Sim.ts(DenseVector(301,120,0,0), 0.0, 100.0, 0.5, stepMM)
Sim.plotTs(tsMM, "Gillespie simulation of the MM model")


and an auto-regulatory genetic network model, for example.

val stepAR = Step.gillespie(SpnModels.ar[IntState]())
val tsAR = Sim.ts(DenseVector(10, 0, 0, 0, 0), 0.0, 500.0, 0.5, stepAR)
Sim.plotTs(tsAR, "Gillespie simulation of the AR model")


If you know the book and/or the R package, these models should all be familiar.
We are not restricted to exact stochastic simulation using the Gillespie algorithm. We can use an approximate Poisson time-stepping algorithm.

// Simulate LV with other algorithms
val stepPts = Step.pts(model)
val tsPts = Sim.ts(DenseVector(50, 100), 0.0, 20.0, 0.05, stepPts)
Sim.plotTs(tsPts, "Poisson time-step simulation of the LV model")


Alternatively, we can instantiate the example models using a continuous state rather than a discrete state, and then simulate using algorithms based on continous approximations, such as Euler-Maruyama simulation of a chemical Langevin equation (CLE) approximation.

val stepCle = Step.cle(SpnModels.lv[DoubleState]())
val tsCle = Sim.ts(DenseVector(50.0, 100.0), 0.0, 20.0, 0.05, stepCle)
Sim.plotTs(tsCle, "Euler-Maruyama/CLE simulation of the LV model")


If we want to ignore noise temporarily, there’s also a simple continuous deterministic Euler integrator built-in.

val stepE = Step.euler(SpnModels.lv[DoubleState]())
val tsE = Sim.ts(DenseVector(50.0, 100.0), 0.0, 20.0, 0.05, stepE)
Sim.plotTs(tsE, "Continuous-deterministic Euler simulation of the LV model")


### Spatial stochastic reaction-diffusion simulation

We can do 1d reaction-diffusion simulation with something like:

val N = 50; val T = 40.0
val model = SpnModels.lv[IntState]()
val step = Spatial.gillespie1d(model,DenseVector(0.8, 0.8))
val x00 = DenseVector(0, 0)
val x0 = DenseVector(50, 100)
val xx00 = Vector.fill(N)(x00)
val xx0 = xx00.updated(N/2,x0)
val output = Sim.ts(xx0, 0.0, T, 0.2, step)
Spatial.plotTs1d(output)


For 2d simulation, we use PMatrix, a comonadic matrix/image type defined within the library, with parallelised map and coflatMap (cobind) operations. See my post on comonads for scientific computing for further details on the concepts underpinning this, though note that it isn’t necessary to understand comonads to use the library.

val r = 20; val c = 30
val model = SpnModels.lv[DoubleState]()
val step = Spatial.cle2d(model, DenseVector(0.6, 0.6), 0.05)
val x00 = DenseVector(0.0, 0.0)
val x0 = DenseVector(50.0, 100.0)
val xx00 = PMatrix(r, c, Vector.fill(r*c)(x00))
val xx0 = xx00.updated(c/2, r/2, x0)
val output = step(xx0, 0.0, 8.0)
val f = Figure("2d LV reaction-diffusion simulation")
val p0 = f.subplot(2, 1, 0)
p0 += image(PMatrix.toBDM(output map (_.data(0))))
val p1 = f.subplot(2, 1, 1)
p1 += image(PMatrix.toBDM(output map (_.data(1))))


### Bayesian parameter inference

The library also includes functions for carrying out parameter inference for stochastic dynamical systems models, using particle MCMC, ABC and ABC-SMC. See the examples directory for further details.

## Next steps

Having worked through this post, the next step is to work through the tutorial. There is some overlap of content with this blog post, but the tutorial goes into more detail regarding the basics. It also finishes with suggestions for how to proceed further.

## Source

This post started out as a tut document (the Scala equivalent of an RMarkdown document). The source can be found here.

## Introduction

In the previous post I gave a brief introduction to the third edition of my textbook, Stochastic modelling for systems biology. The algorithms described in the book are illustrated by implementations in R. These implementations are collected together in an R package on CRAN called smfsb. This post will provide a brief introduction to the package and its capabilities.

## Installation

The package is on CRAN – see the CRAN package page for details. So the simplest way to install it is to enter

install.packages("smfsb")


at the R command prompt. This will install the latest version that is on CRAN. Once installed, the package can be loaded with

library(smfsb)


The package is well-documented, so further information can be obtained with the usual R mechanisms, such as

vignette(package="smfsb")
vignette("smfsb")
help(package="smfsb")
?StepGillespie
example(StepCLE1D)


The version of the package on CRAN is almost certainly what you want. However, the package is developed on R-Forge – see the R-Forge project page for details. So the very latest version of the package can always be installed with

install.packages("smfsb", repos="http://R-Forge.R-project.org")


if you have a reason for wanting it.

## A brief tutorial

The vignette gives a quick introduction the the library, which I don’t need to repeat verbatim here. If you are new to the package, I recommend working through that before continuing. Here I’ll concentrate on some of the new features associated with the third edition.

### Simulating stochastic kinetic models

Much of the book is concerned with the simulation of stochastic kinetic models using exact and approximate algorithms. Although the primary focus of the text is the application to modelling of intra-cellular processes, the methods are also appropriate for population modelling of ecological and epidemic processes. For example, we can start by simulating a simple susceptible-infectious-recovered (SIR) disease epidemic model.

set.seed(2)
data(spnModels)

stepSIR = StepGillespie(SIR)
plot(simTs(SIR$M, 0, 8, 0.05, stepSIR), main="Exact simulation of the SIR model")  The focus of the text is stochastic simulation of discrete models, so that is the obvious place to start. But there is also support for continuous deterministic simulation. plot(simTs(SIR$M, 0, 8, 0.05, StepEulerSPN(SIR)),
main="Euler simulation of the SIR model")


My favourite toy population dynamics model is the Lotka-Volterra (LV) model, so I tend to use this frequently as a running example throughout the book. We can simulate this (exactly) as follows.

stepLV = StepGillespie(LV)
plot(simTs(LV$M, 0, 30, 0.2, stepLV), main="Exact simulation of the LV model")  ### Stochastic reaction-diffusion modelling The first two editions of the book were almost exclusively concerned with well-mixed systems, where spatial effects are ignorable. One of the main new features of the third edition is the inclusion of a new chapter on spatially extended systems. The focus is on models related to the reaction diffusion master equation (RDME) formulation, rather than individual particle-based simulations. For these models, space is typically divided into a regular grid of voxels, with reactions taking place as normal within each voxel, and additional reaction events included, corresponding to the diffusion of particles to adjacent voxels. So to specify such models, we just need an initial condition, a reaction model, and diffusion coefficients (one for each reacting species). So, we can carry out exact simulation of an RDME model for a 1D spatial domain as follows. N=20; T=30 x0=matrix(0, nrow=2, ncol=N) rownames(x0) = c("x1", "x2") x0[,round(N/2)] = LV$M
stepLV1D = StepGillespie1D(LV, c(0.6, 0.6))
xx = simTs1D(x0, 0, T, 0.2, stepLV1D, verb=TRUE)
image(xx[1,,], main="Prey", xlab="Space", ylab="Time")


image(xx[2,,], main="Predator", xlab="Space", ylab="Time")


Exact simulation of discrete stochastic reaction diffusion systems is very expensive (and the reference implementation provided in the package is very inefficient), so we will often use diffusion approximations based on the CLE.

stepLV1DC = StepCLE1D(LV, c(0.6, 0.6))
xx = simTs1D(x0, 0, T, 0.2, stepLV1D)
image(xx[1,,], main="Prey", xlab="Space", ylab="Time")


image(xx[2,,], main="Predator", xlab="Space", ylab="Time")


We can think of this algorithm as an explicit numerical integration of the obvious SPDE approximation to the exact model.

The package also includes support for simulation of 2D systems. Again, we can use the Spatial CLE to speed things up.

m=70; n=50; T=10
data(spnModels)
x0=array(0, c(2,m,n))
dimnames(x0)[[1]]=c("x1", "x2")
x0[,round(m/2),round(n/2)] = LV$M stepLV2D = StepCLE2D(LV, c(0.6,0.6), dt=0.05) xx = simTs2D(x0, 0, T, 0.5, stepLV2D) N = dim(xx)[4] image(xx[1,,,N],main="Prey",xlab="x",ylab="y")  image(xx[2,,,N],main="Predator",xlab="x",ylab="y")  ### Bayesian parameter inference Although much of the book is concerned with the problem of forward simulation, the final chapters are concerned with the inverse problem of estimating model parameters, such as reaction rate constants, from data. A computational Bayesian approach is adopted, with the main emphasis being placed on “likelihood free” methods, which rely on forward simulation to avoid explicit computation of sample path likelihoods. The second edition included some rudimentary code for a likelihood free particle marginal Metropolis-Hastings (PMMH) particle Markov chain Monte Carlo (pMCMC) algorithm. The third edition includes a more complete and improved implementation, in addition to approximate inference algorithms based on approximate Bayesian computation (ABC). The key function underpinning the PMMH approach is pfMLLik, which computes an estimate of marginal model log-likelihood using a (bootstrap) particle filter. There is a new implementation of this function with the third edition. There is also a generic implementation of the Metropolis-Hastings algorithm, metropolisHastings, which can be combined with pfMLLik to create a PMMH algorithm. PMMH algorithms are very slow, but a full demo of how to use these functions for parameter inference is included in the package and can be run with demo(PMCMC)  Simple rejection-based ABC methods are facilitated by the (very simple) function abcRun, which just samples from a prior and then carries out independent simulations in parallel before computing summary statistics. A simple illustration of the use of the function is given below. data(LVdata) rprior <- function() { exp(c(runif(1, -3, 3),runif(1,-8,-2),runif(1,-4,2))) } rmodel <- function(th) { simTs(c(50,100), 0, 30, 2, stepLVc, th) } sumStats <- identity ssd = sumStats(LVperfect) distance <- function(s) { diff = s - ssd sqrt(sum(diff*diff)) } rdist <- function(th) { distance(sumStats(rmodel(th))) } out = abcRun(10000, rprior, rdist) q=quantile(out$dist, c(0.01, 0.05, 0.1))
print(q)

##       1%       5%      10%
## 772.5546 845.8879 881.0573

accepted = out$param[out$dist < q[1],]
print(summary(accepted))

##        V1                V2                  V3
##  Min.   :0.06498   Min.   :0.0004467   Min.   :0.01887
##  1st Qu.:0.16159   1st Qu.:0.0012598   1st Qu.:0.04122
##  Median :0.35750   Median :0.0023488   Median :0.14664
##  Mean   :0.68565   Mean   :0.0046887   Mean   :0.36726
##  3rd Qu.:0.86708   3rd Qu.:0.0057264   3rd Qu.:0.36870
##  Max.   :4.76773   Max.   :0.0309364   Max.   :3.79220

print(summary(log(accepted)))

##        V1                V2               V3
##  Min.   :-2.7337   Min.   :-7.714   Min.   :-3.9702
##  1st Qu.:-1.8228   1st Qu.:-6.677   1st Qu.:-3.1888
##  Median :-1.0286   Median :-6.054   Median :-1.9198
##  Mean   :-0.8906   Mean   :-5.877   Mean   :-1.9649
##  3rd Qu.:-0.1430   3rd Qu.:-5.163   3rd Qu.:-0.9978
##  Max.   : 1.5619   Max.   :-3.476   Max.   : 1.3329


Naive rejection-based ABC algorithms are notoriously inefficient, so the library also includes an implementation of a more efficient, sequential version of ABC, often known as ABC-SMC, in the function abcSmc. This function requires specification of a perturbation kernel to “noise up” the particles at each algorithm sweep. Again, the implementation is parallel, using the parallel package to run the required simulations in parallel on multiple cores. A simple illustration of use is given below.

rprior <- function() { c(runif(1, -3, 3), runif(1, -8, -2), runif(1, -4, 2)) }
dprior <- function(x, ...) { dunif(x[1], -3, 3, ...) +
dunif(x[2], -8, -2, ...) + dunif(x[3], -4, 2, ...) }
rmodel <- function(th) { simTs(c(50,100), 0, 30, 2, stepLVc, exp(th)) }
rperturb <- function(th){th + rnorm(3, 0, 0.5)}
dperturb <- function(thNew, thOld, ...){sum(dnorm(thNew, thOld, 0.5, ...))}
sumStats <- identity
ssd = sumStats(LVperfect)
distance <- function(s) {
diff = s - ssd
sqrt(sum(diff*diff))
}
rdist <- function(th) { distance(sumStats(rmodel(th))) }
out = abcSmc(5000, rprior, dprior, rdist, rperturb,
dperturb, verb=TRUE, steps=6, factor=5)

## 6 5 4 3 2 1

print(summary(out))

##        V1                V2               V3
##  Min.   :-2.9961   Min.   :-7.988   Min.   :-3.999
##  1st Qu.:-1.9001   1st Qu.:-6.786   1st Qu.:-3.428
##  Median :-1.2571   Median :-6.167   Median :-2.433
##  Mean   :-1.0789   Mean   :-6.014   Mean   :-2.196
##  3rd Qu.:-0.2682   3rd Qu.:-5.261   3rd Qu.:-1.161
##  Max.   : 2.1128   Max.   :-2.925   Max.   : 1.706


We can then plot some results with

hist(out[,1],30,main="log(c1)")


hist(out[,2],30,main="log(c2)")


hist(out[,3],30,main="log(c3)")


Although the inference methods are illustrated in the book in the context of parameter inference for stochastic kinetic models, their implementation is generic, and can be used with any appropriate parameter inference problem.

## The smfsbSBML package

smfsbSBML is another R package associated with the third edition of the book. This package is not on CRAN due to its dependency on a package not on CRAN, and hence is slightly less straightforward to install. Follow the available installation instructions to install the package. Once installed, you should be able to load the package with

library(smfsbSBML)


This package provides a function for reading in SBML files and parsing them into the simulatable stochastic Petri net (SPN) objects used by the main smfsb R package. Examples of suitable SBML models are included in the main smfsb GitHub repo. An appropriate SBML model can be read and parsed with a command like:

model = sbml2spn("mySbmlModel.xml")


The resulting value, model is an SPN object which can be passed in to simulation functions such as StepGillespie for constructing stochastic simulation algorithms.

## Other software

In addition to the above R packages, I also have some Python scripts for converting between SBML and the SBML-shorthand notation I use in the book. See the SBML-shorthand page for further details.

Although R is a convenient language for teaching and learning about stochastic simulation, it isn’t ideal for serious research-level scientific computing or computational statistics. So for the third edition of the book I have also developed scala-smfsb, a library written in the Scala programming language, which re-implements all of the models and algorithms from the third edition of the book in Scala, a fast, efficient, strongly-typed, compiled, functional programming language. I’ll give an introduction to this library in a subsequent post, but in the meantime, it is already well documented, so see the scala-smfsb repo for further details, including information on installation, getting started, a tutorial, examples, API docs, etc.

## Source

This blog post started out as an RMarkdown document, the source of which can be found here.

## Stochastic Modelling for Systems Biology, third edition

The third edition of my textbook, Stochastic Modelling for Systems Biology has recently been published by Chapman & Hall/CRC Press. The book has ISBN-10 113854928-2 and ISBN-13 978-113854928-9. It can be ordered from CRC Press, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and similar book sellers.

I was fairly happy with the way that the second edition, published in 2011, turned out, and so I haven’t substantially re-written any of the text for the third edition. Instead, I’ve concentrated on adding in new material and improving the associated on-line resources. Those on-line resources are all free and open source, and hence available to everyone, irrespective of whether you have a copy of the new edition. I’ll give an introduction to those resources below (and in subsequent posts). The new material can be briefly summarised as follows:

• New chapter on spatially extended systems, covering the spatial Gillespie algorithm for reaction diffusion master equation (RDME) models in 1- and 2-d, the next subvolume method, spatial CLE, scaling issues, etc.
• Significantly expanded chapter on inference for stochastic kinetic models from data, covering approximate methods of inference (ABC), including ABC-SMC. The material relating to particle MCMC has also been improved and extended.
• Updated R package, including code relating to all of the new material
• New R package for parsing SBML models into simulatable stochastic Petri net models
• New software library, written in Scala, replicating most of the functionality of the R packages in a fast, compiled, strongly typed, functional language

## New content

Although some minor edits and improvements have been made throughout the text, there are two substantial new additions to the text in this new edition. The first is an entirely new chapter on spatially extended systems. The first two editions of the text focused on the implications of discreteness and stochasticity in chemical reaction systems, but maintained the well-mixed assumption throughout. This is a reasonable first approach, since discreteness and stochasticity are most pronounced in very small volumes where diffusion should be rapid. In any case, even these non-spatial models have very interesting behaviour, and become computationally challenging very quickly for non-trivial reaction networks. However, we know that, in fact, the cell is a very crowded environment, and so even at small spatial scales, many interesting processes are diffusion limited. It therefore seems appropriate to dedicate one chapter (the new Chapter 9) to studying some of the implications of relaxing the well-mixed assumption. Entire books can be written on stochastic reaction-diffusion systems, so here only a brief introduction is provided, based mainly around models in the reaction-diffusion master equation (RDME) style. Exact stochastic simulation algorithms are discussed, and implementations provided in the 1- and 2-d cases, and an appropriate Langevin approximation is examined, the spatial CLE.

The second major addition is to the chapter on inference for stochastic kinetic models from data (now Chapter 11). The second edition of the book included a discussion of “likelihood free” Bayesian MCMC methods for inference, and provided a working implementation of likelihood free particle marginal Metropolis-Hastings (PMMH) for stochastic kinetic models. The third edition improves on that implementation, and discusses approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) as an alternative to MCMC for likelihood free inference. Implementation issues are discussed, and sequential ABC approaches are examined, concentrating in particular on the method known as ABC-SMC.

## New software and on-line resources

Accompanying the text are new and improved on-line resources, all well-documented, free, and open source.

### New website/GitHub repo

Information and materials relating to the previous editions were kept on my University website. All materials relating to this new edition are kept in a public GitHub repo: darrenjw/smfsb. This will be simpler to maintain, and will make it much easier for people to make copies of the material for use and studying off-line.

### Updated R package(s)

Along with the second edition of the book I released an accompanying R package, “smfsb”, published on CRAN. This was a very popular feature, allowing anyone with R to trivially experiment with all of the models and algorithms discussed in the text. This R package has been updated, and a new version has been published to CRAN. The updates are all backwards-compatible with the version associated with the second edition of the text, so owners of that edition can still upgrade safely. I’ll give a proper introduction to the package, including the new features, in a subsequent post, but in the meantime, you can install/upgrade the package from a running R session with

install.packages("smfsb")


and then pop up a tutorial vignette with:

vignette("smfsb")


This should be enough to get you started.

In addition to the main R package, there is an additional R package for parsing SBML models into models that can be simulated within R. This package is not on CRAN, due to its dependency on a non-CRAN package. See the repo for further details.

There are also Python scripts available for converting SBML models to and from the shorthand SBML notation used in the text.

### New Scala library

Another major new resource associated with the third edition of the text is a software library written in the Scala programming language. This library provides Scala implementations of all of the algorithms discussed in the book and implemented in the associated R packages. This then provides example implementations in a fast, efficient, compiled language, and is likely to be most useful for people wanting to use the methods in the book for research. Again, I’ll provide a tutorial introduction to this library in a subsequent post, but it is well-documented, with all necessary information needed to get started available at the scala-smfsb repo/website, including a step-by-step tutorial and some additional examples.

## A scalable particle filter in Scala

### Introduction

Many modern algorithms in computational Bayesian statistics have at their heart a particle filter or some other sequential Monte Carlo (SMC) procedure. In this blog I’ve discussed particle MCMC algorithms which use a particle filter in the inner-loop in order to compute a (noisy, unbiased) estimate of the marginal likelihood of the data. These algorithms are often very computationally intensive, either because the forward model used to propagate the particles is expensive, or because the likelihood associated with each particle/observation is expensive (or both). In this case it is desirable to parallelise the particle filter to run on all available cores of a machine, or in some cases, it would even be desirable to distribute the the particle filter computation across a cluster of machines.

Parallelisation is difficult when using the conventional imperative programming languages typically used in scientific and statistical computing, but is much easier using modern functional languages such as Scala. In fact, in languages such as Scala it is possible to describe algorithms at a higher level of abstraction, so that exactly the same algorithm can run in serial, run in parallel across all available cores on a single machine, or run in parallel across a cluster of machines, all without changing any code. Doing so renders parallelisation a non-issue. In this post I’ll talk through how to do this for a simple bootstrap particle filter, but the same principle applies for a large range of statistical computing algorithms.

trait GenericColl[C[_]] {
def map[A, B](ca: C[A])(f: A => B): C[B]
def reduce[A](ca: C[A])(f: (A, A) => A): A
def flatMap[A, B, D[B] <: GenTraversable[B]](ca: C[A])(f: A => D[B]): C[B]
def zip[A, B](ca: C[A])(cb: C[B]): C[(A, B)]
def length[A](ca: C[A]): Int
}


In the typeclass we just list the methods that we expect our generic collection to provide, but do not say anything about how they are implemented. For example, we know that operations such as map and reduce can be executed in parallel, but this is a separate concern. We can now write code that can be used for any collection conforming to the requirements of this typeclass. The full code for this example is provided in the associated github repo for this blog, and includes the obvious syntax for this typeclass, and typeclass instances for the Scala collections Vector and ParVector, that we will exploit later in the example.

### SIR step for a bootstrap filter

We can now write some code for a single observation update of a bootstrap particle filter.

def update[S: State, O: Observation, C[_]: GenericColl](
dataLik: (S, O) => LogLik, stepFun: S => S
)(x: C[S], o: O): (LogLik, C[S]) = {
val xp = x map (stepFun(_))
val lw = xp map (dataLik(_, o))
val max = lw reduce (math.max(_, _))
val rw = lw map (lwi => math.exp(lwi - max))
val srw = rw reduce (_ + _)
val l = rw.length
val z = rw zip xp
val rx = z flatMap (p => Vector.fill(Poisson(p._1 * l / srw).draw)(p._2))
(max + math.log(srw / l), rx)
}


This is a very simple bootstrap filter, using Poisson resampling for simplicity and data locality, but does include use of the log-sum-exp trick to prevent over/underflow of raw weight calculations, and tracks the marginal (log-)likelihood of the observation. With this function we can now pass in a “prior” particle distribution in any collection conforming to our typeclass, together with a propagator function, an observation (log-)likelihood, and an observation, and it will return back a new collection of particles of exactly the same type that was provided for input. Note that all of the operations we require can be accomplished with the standard monadic collection operations declared in our typeclass.

### Filtering as a functional fold

Once we have a function for executing one step of a particle filter, we can produce a function for particle filtering as a functional fold over a sequence of observations:

def pFilter[S: State, O: Observation, C[_]: GenericColl, D[O] <: GenTraversable[O]](
x0: C[S], data: D[O], dataLik: (S, O) => LogLik, stepFun: S => S
): (LogLik, C[S]) = {
val updater = update[S, O, C](dataLik, stepFun) _
data.foldLeft((0.0, x0))((prev, o) => {
val next = updater(prev._2, o)
(prev._1 + next._1, next._2)
})
}


Folding data structures is a fundamental concept in functional programming, and is exactly what is required for any kind of filtering problem. Note that Brian Beckman has recently written a series of articles on Kalman filtering as a functional fold.

### Marginal likelihoods and parameter estimation

So far we haven’t said anything about parameters or parameter estimation, but this is appropriate, since parametrisation is a separate concern from filtering. However, once we have a function for particle filtering, we can produce a function concerned with evaluating marginal likelihoods trivially:

def pfMll[S: State, P: Parameter, O: Observation,
C[_]: GenericColl, D[O] <: GenTraversable[O]](
simX0: P => C[S], stepFun: P => S => S,
dataLik: P => (S, O) => LogLik, data: D[O]
): (P => LogLik) = (th: P) =>
pFilter(simX0(th), data, dataLik(th), stepFun(th))._1


Note that this higher-order function does not return a value, but instead a function which will accept a parameter as input and return a (log-)likelihood as output. This can then be used for parameter estimation purposes, perhaps being used in a PMMH pMCMC algorithm, or something else. Again, this is a separate concern.

### Example

Here I’ll just give a completely trivial toy example, purely to show how the functions work. For avoidance of doubt, I know that there are many better/simpler/easier ways to tackle this problem! Here we will just look at inferring the auto-regression parameter of a linear Gaussian AR(1)-plus-noise model using the functions we have developed.

First we can simulate some synthetic data from this model, using a value of 0.8 for the auto-regression parameter:

val inNoise = Gaussian(0.0, 1.0).sample(99)
val state = DenseVector(inNoise.scanLeft(0.0)((s, i) => 0.8 * s + i).toArray)
val noise = DenseVector(Gaussian(0.0, 2.0).sample(100).toArray)
val data = (state + noise).toArray.toList


Now assuming that we don’t know the auto-regression parameter, we can construct a function to evaluate the likelihood of different parameter values as follows:

val mll = pfMll(
(th: Double) => Gaussian(0.0, 10.0).sample(10000).toVector.par,
(th: Double) => (s: Double) => Gaussian(th * s, 1.0).draw,
(th: Double) => (s: Double, o: Double) => Gaussian(s, 2.0).logPdf(o),
data
)


Note that the 4 characters “.par” at the end of line 2 are the only difference between running this code serially or in parallel! Now we can run this code by calling the returned function with different values. So, hopefully mll(0.8) will return a larger log-likelihood than (say) mll(0.6) or mll(0.9). The example code in the github repo plots the results of calling mll() for a range of values (note that if that was the genuine use-case, then it would be much better to parallellise the parameter range than the particle filter, due to providing better parallelisation granularity, but many other examples require parallelisation of the particle filter itself). In this particular example, both the forward model and the likelihood are very cheap operations, so there is little to be gained from parallelisation. Nevertheless, I still get a speedup of more than a factor of two using the parallel version on my laptop.

### Conclusion

In this post we have shown how typeclasses can be used in Scala to write code that is parallelisation-agnostic. Code written in this way can be run on one or many cores as desired. We’ve illustrated the concept with a scalable particle filter, but nothing about the approach is specific to that application. It would be easy to build up a library of statistical routines this way, all of which can effectively exploit available parallel hardware. Further, although we haven’t demonstrated it here, it is trivial to extend this idea to allow code to be distribution over a cluster of parallel machines if necessary. For example, if an Apache Spark cluster is available, it is easy to make a Spark RDD instance for our generic collection typeclass, that will then allow us to run our (unmodified) particle filter code over a Spark cluster. This emphasises the fact that Spark can be useful for distributing computation as well as just processing “big data”. I’ll say more about Spark in subsequent posts.

## Tuning particle MCMC algorithms

Several papers have appeared recently discussing the issue of how to tune the number of particles used in the particle filter within a particle MCMC algorithm such as particle marginal Metropolis Hastings (PMMH). Three such papers are:

I have discussed psuedo marginal MCMC and particle MCMC algorithms in previous posts. It will be useful to refer back to these posts if these topics are unfamiliar. Within particle MCMC algorithms (and psuedo-marginal MCMC algorithms, more generally), an unbiased estimate of marginal likelihood is constructed using a number of particles. The more particles that are used, the better the estimate of marginal likelihood is, and the resulting MCMC algorithm will behave more like a “real” marginal MCMC algorithm. For a small number of particles, the algorithm will still have exactly the correct target, but the noise in the unbiased estimator of marginal likelihood will lead to poor mixing of the MCMC chain. The idea is to use just enough particles to ensure that there isn’t “too much” noise in the unbiased estimator, but not to waste lots of time producing a super-accurate estimate of marginal likelihood if that isn’t necessary to ensure good mixing of the MCMC chain.

The papers above try to give theoretical justifications for certain “rules of thumb” that are commonly used in practice. One widely adopted scheme is to tune the number of particles so that the variance of the log of the estimate of marginal liklihood is around one. The obvious questions are “where?” and “why?”, and these questions turn out to be connected. As we will see, there isn’t really a good answer to the “where?” question, but what people usually do is use a pilot run to get an estimate of the posterior mean, or mode, or MLE, and then pick one and tune the noise variance at that particular parameter value. As to “why?”, well, the papers above make various (slightly different) assumptions, all of which lead to trading off mixing against computation time to obtain an “optimal” number of particles. They don’t all agree that the variance of the noise should be exactly 1, but they all agree to an order of magnitude.

All of the above papers make the assumption that the noise distribution associated with the marginal likelihood estimate is independent of the parameter at which it is being evaluated, which explains why there isn’t a really good answer to the “where?” question – under the assumption it doesn’t matter what parameter value is used for tuning – they are all the same! Easy. Except that’s quite a big assumption, so it would be nice to know that it is reasonable, and unfortunately it isn’t. Let’s look at an example to see what goes wrong.

#### Example

In Chapter 10 of my book I look in detail at constructing a PMMH algorithm for inferring the parameters of a discretely observed stochastic Lotka-Volterra model. I’ve stepped through the computational details in a previous post which you should refer back to for the necessary background. Following that post, we can construct a particle filter to return an unbiased estimate of marginal likelihood using the following R code (which relies on the smfsb CRAN package):

require(smfsb)
# data
data(LVdata)
data=as.timedData(LVnoise10)
noiseSD=10
# measurement error model
dataLik <- function(x,t,y,log=TRUE,...)
{
ll=sum(dnorm(y,x,noiseSD,log=TRUE))
if (log)
return(ll)
else
return(exp(ll))
}
# now define a sampler for the prior on the initial state
simx0 <- function(N,t0,...)
{
mat=cbind(rpois(N,50),rpois(N,100))
colnames(mat)=c("x1","x2")
mat
}
# construct particle filter
mLLik=pfMLLik(150,simx0,0,stepLVc,dataLik,data)


Again, see the relevant previous post for details. So now mLLik() is a function that will return the log of an unbiased estimate of marginal likelihood (based on 150 particles) given a parameter value at which to evaluate.

What we are currently wondering is whether the noise in the estimate is independent of the parameter at which it is evaluated. We can investigate this for this filter easily by looking at how the estimate varies as the first parameter (prey birth rate) varies. The following code computes a log likelihood estimate across a range of values and plots the result.

mLLik1=function(x){mLLik(th=c(th1=x,th2=0.005,th3=0.6))}
x=seq(0.7,1.3,length.out=5001)
y=sapply(x,mLLik1)
plot(x[y>-1e10],y[y>-1e10])


The resulting plot is as follows (click for full size):

So, looking at the plot, it is very clear that the noise variance certainly isn’t constant as the parameter varies – it varies substantially. Furthermore, the way in which it varies is “dangerous”, in that the noise is smallest in the vicinity of the MLE. So, if a parameter close to the MLE is chosen for tuning the number of particles, this will ensure that the noise is small close to the MLE, but not elsewhere in parameter space. This could have bad consequences for the mixing of the MCMC algorithm as it explores the tails of the posterior distribution.

So with the above in mind, how should one tune the number of particles in a pMCMC algorithm? I can’t give a general answer, but I can explain what I do. We can’t rely on theory, so a pragmatic approach is required. The above rule of thumb usually gives a good starting point for exploration. Then I just directly optimise ESS per CPU second of the pMCMC algorithm from pilot runs for varying numbers of particles (and other tuning parameters in the algorithm). ESS is “expected sample size”, which can be estimated using the effectiveSize() function in the coda CRAN package. Ugly and brutish, but it works…

## Introduction to the particle Gibbs sampler

### Introduction

Particle MCMC (the use of approximate SMC proposals within exact MCMC algorithms) is arguably one of the most important developments in computational Bayesian inference of the 21st Century. The key concepts underlying these methods are described in a famously impenetrable “read paper” by Andrieu et al (2010). Probably the most generally useful method outlined in that paper is the particle marginal Metropolis-Hastings (PMMH) algorithm that I have described previously – that post is required preparatory reading for this one.

In this post I want to discuss some of the other topics covered in the pMCMC paper, leading up to a description of the particle Gibbs sampler. The basic particle Gibbs algorithm is arguably less powerful than PMMH for a few reasons, some of which I will elaborate on. But there is still a lot of active research concerning particle Gibbs-type algorithms, which are attempting to address some of the deficiencies of the basic approach. Clearly, in order to understand and appreciate the recent developments it is first necessary to understand the basic principles, and so that is what I will concentrate on here. I’ll then finish with some pointers to more recent work in this area.

### PIMH

I will adopt the same approach and notation as for my post on the PMMH algorithm, using a simple bootstrap particle filter for a state space model as the SMC proposal. It is simplest to understand particle Gibbs first in the context of known static parameters, and so it is helpful to first reconsider the special case of the PMMH algorithm where there are no unknown parameters and only the state path, $x$ of the process is being updated. That is, we target $p(x|y)$ (for known, fixed, $\theta$) rather than $p(\theta,x|y)$. This special case is known as the particle independent Metropolis-Hastings (PIMH) sampler.

Here we envisage proposing a new path $x_{0:T}^\star$ using a bootstrap filter, and then accepting the proposal with probability $\min\{1,A\}$, where $A$ is the Metropolis-Hastings ratio

$\displaystyle A = \frac{\hat{p}(y_{1:T})^\star}{\hat{p}(y_{1:T})},$

where $\hat{p}(y_{1:T})^\star$ is the bootstrap filter’s estimate of marginal likelihood for the new path, and $\hat{p}(y_{1:T})$ is the estimate associated with the current path. Again using notation from the previous post it is clear that this ratio targets a distribution on the joint space of all simulated random variables proportional to

$\displaystyle \hat{p}(y_{1:T})\tilde{q}(\mathbf{x}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{x}_T,\mathbf{a}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{a}_{T-1})$

and that in this case the marginal distribution of the accepted path is exactly $p(x_{0:T}|y_{1:T})$. Again, be sure to see the previous post for the explanation.

### Conditional SMC update

So far we have just recapped the previous post in the case of known parameters, but it gives us insight in how to proceed. A general issue with Metropolis independence samplers in high dimensions is that they often exhibit “sticky” behaviour, whereby an unusually “good” accepted path is hard to displace. This motivates consideration of a block-Gibbs-style algorithm where updates are used that are always accepted. It is clear that simply running a bootstrap filter will target the particle filter distribution

$\tilde{q}(\mathbf{x}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{x}_T,\mathbf{a}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{a}_{T-1})$

and so the marginal distribution of the accepted path will be the approximate $\hat{p}(x_{0:T}|y_{1:T})$ rather than the exact conditional distribution $p(x_{0:T}|y_{1:T})$. However, we know from consideration of the PIMH algorithm that what we really want to do is target the slightly modified distribution proportional to

$\displaystyle \hat{p}(y_{1:T})\tilde{q}(\mathbf{x}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{x}_T,\mathbf{a}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{a}_{T-1})$,

as this will lead to accepted paths with the exact marginal distribution. For the PIMH this modification is achieved using a Metropolis-Hastings correction, but we now try to avoid this by instead conditioning on the previously accepted path. For this target the accepted paths have exactly the required marginal distribution, so we now write the target as the product of the marginal for the current path times a conditional for all of the remaining variables.

$\displaystyle \frac{p(x_{0:T}^k|y_{1:T})}{M^T} \times \frac{M^T}{p(x_{0:T}^k|y_{1:T})} \hat{p}(y_{1:T})\tilde{q}(\mathbf{x}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{x}_T,\mathbf{a}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{a}_{T-1})$

where in addition to the correct marginal for $x$ we assume iid uniform ancestor indices. The important thing to note here is that the conditional distribution of the remaining variables simplifies to

$\displaystyle \frac{\tilde{q}(\mathbf{x}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{x}_T,\mathbf{a}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{a}_{T-1})} {\displaystyle p(x_0^{b_0^k})\left[\prod_{t=0}^{T-1} \pi_t^{b_t^k}p\left(x_{t+1}^{b_{t+1}^k}|x_t^{b_t^k}\right)\right]}$.

The terms in the denominator are precisely the terms in the numerator corresponding to the current path, and hence “cancel out” the current path terms in the numerator. It is therefore clear that we can sample directly from this conditional distribution by running a bootstrap particle filter that includes the current path and which leaves the current path fixed. This is the conditional SMC (CSMC) update, which here is just a conditional bootstrap particle filter update. It is clear from the form of the conditional density how this filter must be constructed, but for completeness it is described below.

The bootstrap filter is run conditional on one trajectory. This is usually the trajectory sampled at the last run of the particle filter. The idea is that you do not sample new state or ancestor values for that one trajectory. Note that this guarantees that the conditioned on trajectory survives the filter right through to the final sweep of the filter at which point a new trajectory is picked from the current selection of $M$ paths, of which the conditioned-on trajectory is one.

Let $x_{1:T} = (x_1^{b_1},x_2^{b_2},\ldots,x_T^{b_T})$ be the path that is to be conditioned on, with ancestral lineage $b_{1:T}$. Then, for $k\not= b_1$, sample $x_0^k \sim p(x_0)$ and set $\pi_0^k=1/M$. Now suppose that at time $t$ we have a weighted sample from $p(x_t|y_{1:t})$. First resample by sampling $a_t^k\sim \mathcal{F}(a_t^k|\boldsymbol{\pi}_t),\ \forall k\not= b_t$. Next sample $x_{t+1}^k\sim p(x_{t+1}^k|x_t^{a_t^k}),\ \forall k\not=b_t$. Then for all $k$ set $w_{t+1}^k=p(y_{t+1}|x_{t+1}^k)$ and normalise with $\pi_{t+1}^k=w_{t+1}^k/\sum_{i=1}^M w_{t+1}^i$. Propagate this weighted set of particles to the next time point. At time $T$ select a single trajectory by sampling $k'\sim \mathcal{F}(k'|\boldsymbol{\pi}_T)$.

This defines a block Gibbs sampler which updates $2(M-1)T+1$ of the $2MT+1$ random variables in the augmented state space at each iteration. Since the block of variables to be updated is random, this defines an ergodic sampler for $M\geq2$ particles, and we have explained why the marginal distribution of the selected trajectory is the exact conditional distribution.

Before going on to consider the introduction of unknown parameters, it is worth considering the limitations of this method. One of the main motivations for considering a Gibbs-style update was concern about the “stickiness” of a Metropolis independence sampler. However, it is clear that conditional SMC updates also have the potential to stick. For a large number of time points, particle filter genealogies coalesce, or degenerate, to a single path. Since here we are conditioning on the current path, if there is coalescence, it is guaranteed to be to the previous path. So although the conditional SMC updates are always accepted, it is likely that much of the new path will be identical to the previous path, which is just another kind of “sticking” of the sampler. This problem with conditional SMC and particle Gibbs more generally is well recognised, and quite a bit of recent research activity in this area is directed at alleviating this sticking problem. The most obvious strategy to use is “backward sampling” (Godsill et al, 2004), which has been used in this context by Lindsten and Schon (2012), Whiteley et al (2010), and Chopin and Singh (2013), among others. Another related idea is “ancestor sampling” (Lindsten et al, 2014), which can be done in a single forward pass. Both of these techniques work well, but both rely on the tractability of the transition kernel of the state space model, which can be problematic in certain applications.

### Particle Gibbs sampling

As we are working in the context of Gibbs-style updates, the introduction of static parameters, $\theta$, into the problem is relatively straightforward. It turns out to be correct to do the obvious thing, which is to alternate between sampling $\theta$ given $y$ and the currently sampled path, $x$, and sampling a new path using a conditional SMC update, conditional on the previous path in addition to $\theta$ and $y$. Although this is the obvious thing to do, understanding exactly why it works is a little delicate, due to the augmented state space and conditional SMC update. However, it is reasonably clear that this strategy defines a “collapsed Gibbs sampler” (Lui, 1994), and so actually everything is fine. This particular collapsed Gibbs sampler is relatively easy to understand as a marginal sampler which integrates out the augmented variables, but then nevertheless samples the augmented variables at each iteration conditional on everything else.

Note that the Gibbs update of $\theta$ may be problematic in the context of a state space model with intractable transition kernel.

In a subsequent post I’ll show how to code up the particle Gibbs and other pMCMC algorithms in a reasonably efficient way.

## Parallel particle filtering and pMCMC using R and multicore

### Introduction

In a previous post I showed how to construct a PMMH pMCMC algorithm for parameter estimation with partially observed Markov processes. The inner loop of a pMCMC algorithm consists of running a particle filter to construct an unbiased estimate of marginal likelihood. This inner loop is the place where the code spends almost all of its time, and so speeding up the particle filter will result in dramatic speedup of the pMCMC algorithm. This is fortunate, since as previously discussed, MCMC algorithms are difficult to parallelise other than on a per iteration basis. Here, each iteration can be speeded up if we can effectively parallelise a particle filter. Particle filters are much easier to parallelise than MCMC algorithms, and so it is tempting to try and exploit this within R. In fact, although it is the case that it is possible to effectively parallelise particle filters in efficient languages using low-level parallelisation tools (say, using C with MPI, or Java concurrency tools), it is not so easy to speed up R-based particle filters using R’s high-level parallelisation constructs, as we shall see.

### Particle filters

In the previous post we looked at the function pfMLLik within the CRAN package smfsb. As a reminder, the source code is

pfMLLik <- function (n, simx0, t0, stepFun, dataLik, data)
{
times = c(t0, as.numeric(rownames(data)))
deltas = diff(times)
return(function(...) {
xmat = simx0(n, t0, ...)
ll = 0
for (i in 1:length(deltas)) {
xmat = t(apply(xmat, 1, stepFun, t0 = times[i], deltat = deltas[i], ...))
w = apply(xmat, 1, dataLik, t = times[i + 1], y = data[i,], log = FALSE, ...)
if (max(w) < 1e-20) {
warning("Particle filter bombed")
return(-1e+99)
}
ll = ll + log(mean(w))
rows = sample(1:n, n, replace = TRUE, prob = w)
xmat = xmat[rows, ]
}
ll
})
}


The function itself doesn’t actually run a particle filter, but instead returns a function closure which does (see the previous post for a discussion of lexical scope and function closures in R). There are obviously several different steps within the particle filter, and several of these are amenable to parallelisation. However, for complex models, forward simulation from the model will be the rate-limiting step, where the vast majority of CPU cycles will be spent. Line 9 in the above code is where forward simulation takes place, and in particular, the key function call is the apply call:

apply(xmat, 1, stepFun, t0 = times[i], deltat = deltas[i], ...)


This call applies the forward simulation algorithm stepFun to each row of the matrix xmat independently. Since there are no dependencies between the function calls, this is in principle very straightforward to parallelise on multicore hardware.

### Multicore support in R

I’m writing this post on a laptop with an Intel i7 quad core chip, running the 64 bit version of Ubuntu 11.10. R has support for multicore processing on this platform – it is just a simple matter of installing the relevant packages. However, things are changing rapidly regarding multicore support in R right now, so YMMV. Ubuntu 11.10 has R 2.13 by default, but the multicore support is slightly different in the recently released R 2.14. I’m still using R 2.13. I may update this post (or comment) when I move to R 2.14. The main difference is that the package multicore has been replaced by the package parallel. There are a few other minor changes, but it should be easy to adapt what is presented here to 2.14.

There is a new O’Reilly book called Parallel R. I’ve got a copy of it. It does cover the new parallel package in R 2.14, as well as other parallel R topics, but the book is a bit light weight, to say the least, and I reviewed it on this blog. Please read my review for further details before you buy it.

If you haven’t used multicore in R previously, then

install.packages(c("multicore","doMC"))


should get you started (again, I’m assuming that your R version is strictly < 2.14). You can test it has worked with:

library(multicore)
multicore:::detectCores()


When I do this, I get the answer 8 (I have 4 cores, each of which is hyper-threaded). To begin with, I want to tell R to use just 4 process threads, and I can do this with

library(doMC)
registerDoMC(4)


Replacing the second line with registerDoMC() will set things up to use all detected cores (in my case, 8). There are a couple of different strategies we could use to parallelise this. One strategy for parallelising the apply call discussed above is to be to replace it with a foreach / %dopar% loop. This is best illustrated by example. Start with line 9 from the function pfMLLik:

xmat = t(apply(xmat, 1, stepFun, t0 = times[i], deltat = deltas[i], ...))


We can produce a parallelised version by replacing this line with the following block of code:

res=foreach(j=1:dim(xmat)[1]) %dopar% {
stepFun(xmat[j,], t0 = times[i], deltat = deltas[i], ...)
}
xmat=t(sapply(res,cbind))


Each iteration of the foreach loop is executed independently (possibly using multiple cores), and the result of each iteration is returned as a list, and captured in res. This list of return vectors is then coerced back into a matrix with the final line.

In fact, we can improve on this by using the .combine argument to foreach, which describes how to combine the results from each iteration. Here we can just use rbind to combine the results into a matrix, using:

xmat=foreach(j=1:dim(xmat)[1], .combine="rbind") %dopar% {
stepFun(xmat[j,], t0 = times[i], deltat = deltas[i], ...)
}


This code is much neater, and in principle ought to be a bit faster, though I haven’t noticed much difference in practice.

In fact, it is not necessary to use the foreach construct at all. The multicore package provides the mclapply function, which is a multicore version of lapply. To use mclapply (or, indeed, lapply) here, we first need to split our matrix into a list of rows, which we can do using the split command. So in fact, our apply call can be replaced with the single line:

xmat=t(sapply(mclapply(split(xmat,row(xmat)), stepFun, t0=times[i], deltat=deltas[i], ...),cbind))


This is actually a much cleaner solution than the method using foreach, but it does require grokking a bit more R. Note that mclapply uses a different method to specify the number of threads to use than foreach/doMC. Here you can either use the named argument to mclapply, mc.cores, or use options(), eg. options(cores=4).

As well as being much cleaner, I find that the mclapply approach is much faster than the foreach/dopar approach for this problem. I’m guessing that this is because foreach doesn’t pre-schedule tasks by default, whereas mclapply does, but I haven’t had a chance to dig into this in detail yet.

### A parallelised particle filter

We can now splice the parallelised forward simulation step (using mclapply) back into our particle filter function to get:

require(multicore)
pfMLLik <- function (n, simx0, t0, stepFun, dataLik, data)
{
times = c(t0, as.numeric(rownames(data)))
deltas = diff(times)
return(function(...) {
xmat = simx0(n, t0, ...)
ll = 0
for (i in 1:length(deltas)) {
xmat=t(sapply(mclapply(split(xmat,row(xmat)), stepFun, t0=times[i], deltat=deltas[i], ...),cbind))
w = apply(xmat, 1, dataLik, t = times[i + 1], y = data[i,], log = FALSE, ...)
if (max(w) < 1e-20) {
warning("Particle filter bombed")
return(-1e+99)
}
ll = ll + log(mean(w))
rows = sample(1:n, n, replace = TRUE, prob = w)
xmat = xmat[rows, ]
}
ll
})
}


This can be used in place of the version supplied with the smfsb package for slow simulation algorithms running on modern multicore machines.

There is an issue regarding Monte Carlo simulations such as this and the multicore package (whether you use mclapply or foreach/dopar) in that it adopts a “different seeds” approach to parallel random number generation, rather than a true parallel random number generator. This probably isn’t worth worrying too much about now, since it is fixed in the new parallel package in R 2.14, but is something to be aware of. I discuss parallel random number generation issues in Wilkinson (2005).

### Multiple particle filters and pMCMC

Let’s look again at the main loop of the pMCMC algorithm discussed in the previous post:

for (i in 1:iters) {
message(paste(i,""),appendLF=FALSE)
for (j in 1:thin) {
thprop=th*exp(rnorm(p,0,tune))
llprop=mLLik(thprop)
if (log(runif(1)) < llprop - ll) {
th=thprop
ll=llprop
}
}
thmat[i,]=th
}


It is clear that the main computational bottleneck of this code is the call to mLLik on line 5, as this is the call which runs the particle filter. The purpose of making the call is to obtain an unbiased estimate of marginal likelihood. However, there are plenty of other ways that we can obtain such estimates than by running a single particle filter. In particular, we could run multiple particle filters and average the results. So, let’s look at how to do this in the multicore setting. Let’s start by thinking about running 4 particle filters. We could just replace the line

llprop=mLLik(thprop)


with the code

llprop=0.25*foreach(i=1:4, .combine="+") %dopar% {
mLLik(thprop)
}


Now, there are at least 2 issues with this. The first is that we are now just running 4 particle filters rather than 1, and so even with perfect parallelisation, it will run no quicker than the code we started with. However, the idea is that by running 4 particle filters we ought to be able to get away with each particle filter using fewer particles, though it isn’t trivial to figure out exactly how many. For example, averaging the results from 4 particle filters, each of which uses 25 particles is not as good as running a single particle filter with 100 particles. In practice, some trial and error is likely to be required. The second problem is that we have computed the mean of the log of the likelihoods, and not the likelihoods themselves. This will almost certainly work fine in practice, as the resulting estimate will in most cases be very close to unbiased, but it will not be exactly unbiased, as so will not lead to an “exact” approximate algorithm. In principle, this can be fixed by instead using

res=foreach(i=1:4) %dopar% {
mLLik(thprop)
}
llprop=log(mean(sapply(res,exp)))


but in practice this is likely to be subject to numerical underflow problems, as it involves manipulating raw likelihood values, which is generally a bad idea. It is possible to compute the log of the mean of the likelihoods in a more numerically stable way, but that is left as an exercise for the reader, as this post is way too long already… However, one additional tip worth mentioning is that the foreach package includes a convenience function called times for situations like the above, where the argument is not varying over calls. So the above code can be replaced with

res=times(4) %dopar% mLLik(thprop)
llprop=log(mean(sapply(res,exp)))


which is a bit cleaner and more readable.

Using this approach to parallelisation, there is now a much better chance of getting some speedup on multicore architectures, as the granularity of the tasks being parallelised is now much larger. Consider the example from the previous post, where at each iteration we ran a particle filter with 100 particles. If we now re-run that example, but instead use 4 particle filters each using 25 particles, we do get a slight speedup. However, on my laptop, the speedup is only around a factor of 1.6 using 4 cores, and as already discussed, 4 filters each with 25 particles isn’t actually quite as good as a single filter with 100 particles anyway. So, the benefits are rather modest here, but will be much better with less trivial examples (slower simulators). For completeness, a complete runnable demo script is included after the references. Also, it is probably worth emphasising that if your pMCMC algorithm has a short burn-in period, you may well get much better overall speed-ups by just running parallel MCMC chains. Depressing, perhaps, but true.

### References

• McCallum, E., Weston, S. (2011) Parallel R, O’Reilly.
• Wilkinson, D. J. (2005) Parallel Bayesian Computation, Chapter 16 in E. J. Kontoghiorghes (ed.) Handbook of Parallel Computing and Statistics, Marcel Dekker/CRC Press, 481-512.
• Wilkinson, D. J. (2011) Stochastic Modelling for Systems Biology, second edition, Boca Raton, Florida: Chapman & Hall/CRC Press.
• ### Demo script

require(smfsb)
data(LVdata)

require(multicore)
require(doMC)
registerDoMC(4)

# set up data likelihood
noiseSD=10
dataLik <- function(x,t,y,log=TRUE,...)
{
ll=sum(dnorm(y,x,noiseSD,log=TRUE))
if (log)
return(ll)
else
return(exp(ll))
}
# now define a sampler for the prior on the initial state
simx0 <- function(N,t0,...)
{
mat=cbind(rpois(N,50),rpois(N,100))
colnames(mat)=c("x1","x2")
mat
}
# convert the time series to a timed data matrix
LVdata=as.timedData(LVnoise10)
# create marginal log-likelihood functions, based on a particle filter

# use 25 particles instead of 100
mLLik=pfMLLik(25,simx0,0,stepLVc,dataLik,LVdata)

iters=1000
tune=0.01
thin=10
th=c(th1 = 1, th2 = 0.005, th3 = 0.6)
p=length(th)
ll=-1e99
thmat=matrix(0,nrow=iters,ncol=p)
colnames(thmat)=names(th)
# Main pMCMC loop
for (i in 1:iters) {
message(paste(i,""),appendLF=FALSE)
for (j in 1:thin) {
thprop=th*exp(rnorm(p,0,tune))
res=times(4) %dopar% mLLik(thprop)
llprop=log(mean(sapply(res,exp)))
if (log(runif(1)) < llprop - ll) {
th=thprop
ll=llprop
}
}
thmat[i,]=th
}
message("Done!")
# Compute and plot some basic summaries
mcmcSummary(thmat)