Evaluation of marginal likelihoods via the density of states


Michael Habeck ;
Proceedings of the Fifteenth International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics, PMLR 22:486-494, 2012.


Bayesian model comparison involves the evaluation of the marginal likelihood, the expectation of the likelihood under the prior distribution. Typically, this high-dimensional integral over all model parameters is approximated using Markov chain Monte Carlo methods. Thermodynamic integration is a popular method to estimate the marginal likelihood by using samples from annealed posteriors. Here we show that there exists a robust and flexible alternative. The new method estimates the density of states, which counts the number of states associated with a particular value of the likelihood. If the density of states is known, computation of the marginal likelihood reduces to a one- dimensional integral. We outline a maximum likelihood procedure to estimate the density of states from annealed posterior samples. We apply our method to various likelihoods and show that it is superior to thermodynamic integration in that it is more flexible with regard to the annealing schedule and the family of bridging distributions. Finally, we discuss the relation of our method with Skilling’s nested sampling.

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