An Instability in Variational Inference for Topic Models


Behrooz Ghorbani, Hamid Javadi, Andrea Montanari ;
Proceedings of the 36th International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR 97:2221-2231, 2019.


Naive mean field variational methods are the state of-the-art approach to inference in topic modeling. We show that these methods suffer from an instability that can produce misleading conclusions. Namely, for certain regimes of the model parameters, variational inference outputs a non-trivial decomposition into topics. However -for the same parameter values- the data contain no actual information about the true topic decomposition, and the output of the algorithm is uncorrelated with it. In particular, the estimated posterior mean is wrong, and estimated credible regions do not achieve the nominal coverage. We discuss how this instability is remedied by more accurate mean field approximations.

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