The particle marginal Metropolis-Hastings (PMMH) particle MCMC algorithm


In the previous post I explained how one can use an unbiased estimate of marginal likelihood derived from a particle filter within a Metropolis-Hastings MCMC algorithm in order to construct an exact pseudo-marginal MCMC scheme for the posterior distribution of the model parameters given some time course data. This idea is closely related to that of the particle marginal Metropolis-Hastings (PMMH) algorithm of Andreiu et al (2010), but not really exactly the same. This is because for a Bayesian model with parameters \theta, latent variables x and data y, of the form

\displaystyle  p(\theta,x,y) = p(\theta)p(x|\theta)p(y|x,\theta),

the pseudo-marginal algorithm which exploits the fact that the particle filter’s estimate of likelihood is unbiased is an MCMC algorithm which directly targets the marginal posterior distribution p(\theta|y). On the other hand, the PMMH algorithm is an MCMC algorithm which targets the full joint posterior distribution p(\theta,x|y). Now, the PMMH scheme does reduce to the pseudo-marginal scheme if samples of x are not generated and stored in the state of the Markov chain, and it certainly is the case that the pseudo-marginal algorithm gives some insight into why the PMMH algorithm works. However, the PMMH algorithm is much more powerful, as it solves the “smoothing” and parameter estimation problem simultaneously and exactly, including the “initial value” problem (computing the posterior distribution of the initial state, x_0). Below I will describe the algorithm and explain why it works, but first it is necessary to understand the relationship between marginal, joint and “likelihood-free” MCMC updating schemes for such latent variable models.

MCMC for latent variable models

Marginal approach

If we want to target p(\theta|y) directly, we can use a Metropolis-Hastings scheme with a fairly arbitrary proposal distribution for exploring \theta, where a new \theta^\star is proposed from f(\theta^\star|\theta) and accepted with probability \min\{1,A\}, where

\displaystyle  A = \frac{p(\theta^\star)}{p(\theta)} \times  \frac{f(\theta|\theta^\star)}{f(\theta^\star|\theta)} \times \frac{p({y}|\theta^\star)}{p({y}|\theta)}.

As previously discussed, the problem with this scheme is that the marginal likelihood p(y|\theta) required in the acceptance ratio is often difficult to compute.

Likelihood-free MCMC

A simple “likelihood-free” scheme targets the full joint posterior distribution p(\theta,x|y). It works by exploiting the fact that we can often simulate from the model for the latent variables p(x|\theta) even when we can’t evaluate it, or marginalise x out of the problem. Here the Metropolis-Hastings proposal is constructed in two stages. First, a proposed new \theta^\star is sampled from f(\theta^\star|\theta) and then a corresponding x^\star is simulated from the model p(x^\star|\theta^\star). The pair (\theta^\star,x^\star) is then jointly accepted with ratio

\displaystyle  A = \frac{p(\theta^\star)}{p(\theta)} \times  \frac{f(\theta|\theta^\star)}{f(\theta^\star|\theta)} \times \frac{p(y|{x}^\star,\theta^\star)}{p(y|{x},\theta)}.

The proposal mechanism ensures that the proposed x^\star is consistent with the proposed \theta^\star, and so the procedure can work provided that the dimension of the data y is low. However, in order to work well more generally, we would want the proposed latent variables to be consistent with the data as well as the model parameters.

Ideal joint update

Motivated by the likelihood-free scheme, we would really like to target the joint posterior p(\theta,x|y) by first proposing \theta^\star from f(\theta^\star|\theta) and then a corresponding x^\star from the conditional distribution p(x^\star|\theta^\star,y). The pair (\theta^\star,x^\star) is then jointly accepted with ratio

\displaystyle  A = \frac{p(\theta^\star)}{p(\theta)}   \frac{p({x}^\star|\theta^\star)}{p({x}|\theta)}   \frac{f(\theta|\theta^\star)}{f(\theta^\star|\theta)}   \frac{p(y|{x}^\star,\theta^\star)}{p(y|{x},\theta)}  \frac{p({x}|y,\theta)}{p({x}^\star|y,\theta^\star)}\\  \qquad = \frac{p(\theta^\star)}{p(\theta)}  \frac{p(y|\theta^\star)}{p(y|\theta)} \frac{f(\theta|\theta^\star)}{f(\theta^\star|\theta)}.

Notice how the acceptance ratio simplifies, using the basic marginal likelihood identity (BMI) of Chib (1995), and x drops out of the ratio completely in order to give exactly the ratio used for the marginal updating scheme. Thus, the “ideal” joint updating scheme reduces to the marginal updating scheme if x is not sampled and stored as a component of the Markov chain.

Understanding the relationship between these schemes is useful for understanding the PMMH algorithm. Indeed, we will see that the “ideal” joint updating scheme (and the marginal scheme) corresponds to PMMH using infinitely many particles in the particle filter, and that the likelihood-free scheme corresponds to PMMH using exactly one particle in the particle filter. For an intermediate number of particles, the PMMH scheme is a compromise between the “ideal” scheme and the “blind” likelihood-free scheme, but is always likelihood-free (when used with a bootstrap particle filter) and always has an acceptance ratio leaving the exact posterior invariant.

The PMMH algorithm

The algorithm

The PMMH algorithm is an MCMC algorithm for state space models jointly updating \theta and x_{0:T}, as the algorithms above. First, a proposed new \theta^\star is generated from a proposal f(\theta^\star|\theta), and then a corresponding x_{0:T}^\star is generated by running a bootstrap particle filter (as described in the previous post, and below) using the proposed new model parameters, \theta^\star, and selecting a single trajectory by sampling once from the final set of particles using the final set of weights. This proposed pair (\theta^\star,x_{0:T}^\star) is accepted using the Metropolis-Hastings ratio

\displaystyle  A = \frac{\hat{p}_{\theta^\star}(y_{1:T})p(\theta^\star)q(\theta|\theta^\star)}{\hat{p}_{\theta}(y_{1:T})p(\theta)q(\theta^\star|\theta)},

where \hat{p}_{\theta^\star}(y_{1:T}) is the particle filter’s (unbiased) estimate of marginal likelihood, described in the previous post, and below. Note that this approach tends to the perfect joint/marginal updating scheme as the number of particles used in the filter tends to infinity. Note also that for a single particle, the particle filter just blindly forward simulates from p_\theta(x^\star_{0:T}) and that the filter’s estimate of marginal likelihood is just the observed data likelihood p_\theta(y_{1:T}|x^\star_{0:T}) leading precisely to the simple likelihood-free scheme. To understand for an arbitrary finite number of particles, M, one needs to think carefully about the structure of the particle filter.

Why it works

To understand why PMMH works, it is necessary to think about the joint distribution of all random variables used in the bootstrap particle filter. To this end, it is helpful to re-visit the particle filter, thinking carefully about the resampling and propagation steps.

First introduce notation for the “particle cloud”: \mathbf{x}_t=\{x_t^k|k=1,\ldots,M\}, \boldsymbol{\pi}_t=\{\pi_t^k|k=1,\ldots,M\}, \tilde{\mathbf{x}}_t=\{(x_t^k,\pi_t^k)|k=1,\ldots,M\}. Initialise the particle filter with \tilde{\mathbf{x}}_0, where x_0^k\sim p(x_0) and \pi_0^k=1/M (note that w_0^k is undefined). Now suppose at time t we have a sample from p(x_t|y_{1:t}): \tilde{\mathbf{x}}_t. First resample by sampling a_t^k \sim \mathcal{F}(a_t^k|\boldsymbol{\pi}_t), k=1,\ldots,M. Here we use \mathcal{F}(\cdot|\boldsymbol{\pi}) for the discrete distribution on 1:M with probability mass function \boldsymbol{\pi}. Next sample x_{t+1}^k\sim p(x_{t+1}^k|x_t^{a_t^k}). Set w_{t+1}^k=p(y_{t+1}|x_{t+1}^k) and \pi_{t+1}^k=w_{t+1}^k/\sum_{i=1}^M w_{t+1}^i. Finally, propagate \tilde{\mathbf{x}}_{t+1} to the next step… We define the filter’s estimate of likelihood as \hat{p}(y_t|y_{1:t-1})=\frac{1}{M}\sum_{i=1}^M w_t^i and \hat{p}(y_{1:T})=\prod_{i=1}^T \hat{p}(y_t|y_{1:t-1}). See Doucet et al (2001) for further theoretical background on particle filters and SMC more generally.

Describing the filter carefully as above allows us to write down the joint density of all random variables in the filter as

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

For PMMH we also sample a final index k' from \mathcal{F}(k'|\boldsymbol{\pi}_T) giving the joint density

\displaystyle  \tilde{q}(\mathbf{x}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{x}_T,\mathbf{a}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{a}_{T-1})\pi_T^{k'}

We write the final selected trajectory as

\displaystyle  x_{0:T}^{k'}=(x_0^{b_0^{k'}},\ldots,x_T^{b_T^{k'}}),

where b_t^{k'}=a_t^{b_{t+1}^{k'}}, and b_T^{k'}=k'. If we now think about the structure of the PMMH algorithm, our proposal on the space of all random variables in the problem is in fact

\displaystyle  f(\theta^\star|\theta)\tilde{q}_{\theta^\star}(\mathbf{x}_0^\star,\ldots,\mathbf{x}_T^\star,\mathbf{a}_0^\star,\ldots,\mathbf{a}_{T-1}^\star)\pi_T^{{k'}^\star}

and by considering the proposal and the acceptance ratio, it is clear that detailed balance for the chain is satisfied by the target with density proportional to

\displaystyle  p(\theta)\hat{p}_\theta(y_{1:T})  \tilde{q}_\theta(\mathbf{x}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{x}_T,\mathbf{a}_0,\ldots,\mathbf{a}_{T-1})  \pi_T^{k'}

We want to show that this target marginalises down to the correct posterior p(\theta,x_{0:T}|y_{1:T}) when we consider just the parameters and the selected trajectory. But if we consider the terms in the joint distribution of the proposal corresponding to the trajectory selected by k', this is given by

\displaystyle  p_\theta(x_0^{b_0^{k'}})\left[\prod_{t=0}^{T-1} \pi_t^{b_t^{k'}}    p_\theta(x_{t+1}^{b_{t+1}^{k'}}|x_t^{b_t^{k'}})\right]\pi_T^{k'}  =  p_\theta(x_{0:T}^{k'})\prod_{t=0}^T \pi_t^{b_t^{k'}}

which, by expanding the \pi_t^{b_t^{k'}} in terms of the unnormalised weights, simplifies to

\displaystyle  \frac{p_\theta(x_{0:T}^{k'})p_\theta(y_{1:T}|x_{0:T}^{k'})}{M^{T+1}\hat{p}_\theta(y_{1:T})}

It is worth dwelling on this result, as this is the key insight required to understand why the PMMH algorithm works. The whole point is that the terms in the joint density of the proposal corresponding to the selected trajectory exactly represent the required joint distribution modulo a couple of normalising constants, one of which is the particle filter’s estimate of marginal likelihood. Thus, by including \hat{p}_\theta(y_{1:T}) in the acceptance ratio, we knock out the normalising constant, allowing all of the other terms in the proposal to be marginalised away. In other words, the target of the chain can be written as proportional to

\displaystyle  \frac{p(\theta)p_\theta(x_{0:T}^{k'},y_{1:T})}{M^{T+1}} \times  \text{(Other terms...)}

The other terms are all probabilities of random variables which do not occur elsewhere in the target, and hence can all be marginalised away to leave the correct posterior

\displaystyle  p(\theta,x_{0:T}|y_{1:T})

Thus the PMMH algorithm targets the correct posterior for any number of particles, M. Also note the implied uniform distribution on the selected indices in the target.

I will give some code examples in a future post.


MCMC, Monte Carlo likelihood estimation, and the bootstrap particle filter

The pseudo-marginal approach to MCMC for Bayesian inference

In a previous post I described a generalisation of the Metropolis Hastings MCMC algorithm which uses unbiased Monte Carlo estimates of likelihood in the acceptance ratio, but is nevertheless exact, when considered as a pseudo-marginal approach to “exact approximate” MCMC. To be useful in the context of Bayesian inference, we need to be able to compute unbiased estimates of the (marginal) likelihood of the data given some proposed model parameters with any “latent variables” integrated out.

To be more precise, consider a model for data y with parameters \theta of the form \pi(y|\theta) together with a prior on \theta, \pi(\theta), giving a joint model

\displaystyle  \pi(\theta,y)=\pi(\theta)\pi(y|\theta).

Suppose now that interest is in the posterior distribution

\displaystyle  \pi(\theta|y) \propto  \pi(\theta,y)=\pi(\theta)\pi(y|\theta).

We can construct a fairly generic (marginal) MCMC scheme for this posterior by first proposing \theta^\star \sim f(\theta^\star|\theta) from some fairly arbitrary proposal distribution and then accepting the value with probability \min\{1,A\} where

\displaystyle  A = \frac{\pi(\theta^\star)}{\pi(\theta)} \frac{f(\theta|\theta^\star)}{f(\theta^\star|\theta)} \frac{\pi(y|\theta^\star)}{\pi(y|\theta)}

This method is great provided that the (marginal) likelihood of the data \pi(y|\theta) is available to us analytically, but in many (most) interesting models it is not. However, in the previous post I explained why substituting in a Monte Carlo estimate \hat\pi(y|\theta) will still lead to the exact posterior if the estimate is unbiased in the sense that E[\hat\pi(y|\theta)]=\pi(y|\theta). Consequently, sources of (cheap) unbiased Monte Carlo estimates of (marginal) likelihood are of potential interest in the development of exact MCMC algorithms.

Latent variables and marginalisation

Often the reason that we cannot evaluate \pi(y|\theta) is that there are latent variables in the problem, and the model for the data is conditional on those latent variables. Explicitly, if we denote the latent variables by x, then the joint distribution for the model takes the form

\displaystyle  \pi(\theta,x,y) = \pi(\theta)\pi(x|\theta)\pi(y|x,\theta)

Now since

\displaystyle  \pi(y|\theta) = \int_X \pi(y|x,\theta)\pi(x|\theta)\,dx

there is a simple and obvious Monte Carlo strategy for estimating \pi(y|\theta) provided that we can evaluate \pi(y|x,\theta) and simulate realisations from \pi(x|\theta). That is, simulate values x_1,x_2,\ldots,x_n from \pi(x|\theta) for some suitably large n, and then put

\displaystyle  \hat\pi(y|\theta) = \frac{1}{n}\sum_{i=1}^n \pi(y|x_i,\theta).

It is clear by the law of large numbers that this estimate will converge to \pi(y|\theta) as n\rightarrow \infty. That is, \hat\pi(y|\theta) is a consistent estimate of \pi(y|\theta). However, a moment’s thought reveals that this estimate is not only consistent, but also unbiased, since each term in the sum has expectation \pi(y|\theta). This simple Monte Carlo estimate of likelihood can therefore be substituted into a Metropolis-Hastings acceptance ratio without affecting the (marginal) target distribution of the Markov chain. Note that this estimate of marginal likelihood is sometimes referred to as the Rao-Blackwellised estimate, due to its connection with the Rao-Blackwell theorem.

Importance sampling

Suppose now that we cannot sample values directly from \pi(x|\theta), but can sample instead from a distribution \pi'(x|\theta) having the same support as \pi(x|\theta). We can then instead produce an importance sampling estimate for \pi(y|\theta) by noting that

\displaystyle  \pi(y|\theta) = \int_X \pi(y|x,\theta)\frac{\pi(x|\theta)}{\pi'(x|\theta)}\pi'(x|\theta)\,dx.

Consequently, samples x_1,x_2,\ldots,x_n from \pi'(x|\theta) can be used to construct the estimate

\displaystyle  \hat{\pi}(y|\theta) = \frac{1}{n}\sum_{i=1}^n \pi(y|x_i,\theta) \frac{\pi(x_i|\theta)}{\pi'(x_i|\theta)}

which again is clearly both consistent and unbiased. This estimate is often written

\displaystyle  \hat{\pi}(y|\theta) = \frac{1}{n}\sum_{i=1}^n \pi(y|x_i,\theta) w_i
where w_i=\pi(x_i|\theta)/\pi'(x_i|\theta). The weights, w_i, are known as importance weights.

Importance resampling

An idea closely related to that of importance sampling is that of importance resampling where importance weights are used to resample a sample in order to equalise the weights, often prior to a further round of weighting and resampling. The basic idea is to generate an approximate sample from a target density \pi(x) using values sampled from an auxiliary distribution \pi'(x), where we now supress any dependence of the distributions on model parameters, \theta.

First generate a sample x_1,\ldots,x_n from \pi'(x) and compute weights w_i=\pi(x_i)/\pi'(x_i),\ i=1,\ldots,n. Then compute normalised weights \tilde{w}_i=w_i/\sum_{k=1}^n w_k. Generate a new sample of size n by sampling n times with replacement from the original sample with the probability of choosing each value determined by its normalised weight.

As an example, consider using a sample from the Cauchy distribution as an auxiliary distribution for approximately sampling standard normal random quantities. We can do this using a few lines of R as follows.


Note that we don’t actually need to compute the normalised weights, as the sample function will do this for us. Note also that the average weight will be close to one. It should be clear that the expected value of the weights will be exactly 1 when both the target and auxiliary densities are correctly normalised. Also note that the procedure can be used when one or both of the densities are not correctly normalised, since the weights will be normalised prior to sampling anyway. Note that in this case the expected weight will be the (ratio of) normalising constant(s), and so looking at the average weight will give an estimate of the normalising constant.

Note that the importance sampling procedure is approximate. Unlike a technique such as rejection sampling, which leads to samples having exactly the correct distribution, this is not the case here. Indeed, it is clear that in the n=1 case, the final sample will be exactly drawn from the auxiliary and not the target. The procedure is asymptotic, in that it improves as the sample size increases, tending to the exact target as n\rightarrow \infty.

We can understand why importance resampling works by first considering the univariate case, using correctly normalised densities. Consider a very large number of particles, N. The proportion of the auxiliary samples falling in a small interval [x,x+dx) will be \pi'(x)dx, corresponding to roughly N\pi'(x)dx particles. The weight for each of those particles will be w(x)=\pi(x)/\pi'(x), and since the expected weight of a random particle is 1, the sum of all weights will be (roughly) N, leading to normalised weights for the particles near x of \tilde{w}(x)=\pi(x)/[N\pi'(x)]. The combined weight of all particles in [x,x+dx) is therefore \pi(x)dx. Clearly then, when we resample N times we expect to select roughly N\pi(x)dx particles from this interval. This corresponds to a proportion \pi(x)dt, corresponding to a density of \pi(x) in the final sample.

Obviously the above argument is very informal, but can be tightened up into a reasonably rigorous proof for the 1d case without too much effort, and the multivariate extension is also reasonably clear.

The bootstrap particle filter

The bootstrap particle filter is an iterative method for carrying out Bayesian inference for dynamic state space (partially observed Markov process) models, sometimes also known as hidden Markov models (HMMs). Here, an unobserved Markov process, x_0,x_1,\ldots,x_T governed by a transition kernel p(x_{t+1}|x_t) is partially observed via some measurement model p(y_t|x_t) leading to data y_1,\ldots,y_T. The idea is to make inference for the hidden states x_{0:T} given the data y_{1:T}. The method is a very simple application of the importance resampling technique. At each time, t, we assume that we have a (approximate) sample from p(x_t|y_{1:t}) and use importance resampling to generate an approximate sample from p(x_{t+1}|y_{1:t+1}).

More precisely, the procedure is initialised with a sample from x_0^k \sim p(x_0),\ k=1,\ldots,M with uniform normalised weights {w'}_0^k=1/M. Then suppose that we have a weighted sample \{x_t^k,{w'}_t^k|k=1,\ldots,M\} from p(x_t|y_{1:t}). First generate an equally weighted sample by resampling with replacement M times to obtain \{\tilde{x}_t^k|k=1,\ldots,M\} (giving an approximate random sample from p(x_t|y_{1:t})). Note that each sample is independently drawn from \sum_{i=1}^M {w'}_t^i\delta(x-x_t^i). Next propagate each particle forward according to the Markov process model by sampling x_{t+1}^k\sim p(x_{t+1}|\tilde{x}_t^k),\ k=1,\ldots,M (giving an approximate random sample from p(x_{t+1}|y_{1:t})). Then for each of the new particles, compute a weight w_{t+1}^k=p(y_{t+1}|x_{t+1}^k), and then a normalised weight {w'}_{t+1}^k=w_{t+1}^k/\sum_i w_{t+1}^i.

It is clear from our understanding of importance resampling that these weights are appropriate for representing a sample from p(x_{t+1}|y_{1:t+1}), and so the particles and weights can be propagated forward to the next time point. It is also clear that the average weight at each time gives an estimate of the marginal likelihood of the current data point given the data so far. So we define

\displaystyle  \hat{p}(y_t|y_{1:t-1})=\frac{1}{M}\sum_{k=1}^M w_t^k


\displaystyle  \hat{p}(y_{1:T}) = \hat{p}(y_1)\prod_{t=2}^T \hat{p}(y_t|y_{1:t-1}).

Again, from our understanding of importance resampling, it should be reasonably clear that \hat{p}(y_{1:T}) is a consistent estimator of {p}(y_{1:T}). It is much less clear, but nevertheless true that this estimator is also unbiased. The standard reference for this fact is Del Moral (2004), but this is a rather technical monograph. A much more accessible proof (for a very general particle filter) is given in Pitt et al (2011).

It should therefore be clear that if one is interested in developing MCMC algorithms for state space models, one can use a pseudo-marginal MCMC scheme, substituting in \hat{p}_\theta(y_{1:T}) from a bootstrap particle filter in place of p(y_{1:T}|\theta). This turns out to be a simple special case of the particle marginal Metropolis-Hastings (PMMH) algorithm described in Andreiu et al (2010). However, the PMMH algorithm in fact has the full joint posterior p(\theta,x_{0:T}|y_{1:T}) as its target. I will explain the PMMH algorithm in a subsequent post.