Reliable ABC Model Choice via Random Forests

COUV_CAHIER_EGND_A07by Pudlo, J.-M. Marin, A. Estoup, J.-M. Cornuet, M. Gauthier & C.P. Robert

Approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) methods provide an elaborate approach to Bayesian inference on complex models, including model choice. Both theoretical arguments and simulation experiments indicate, however, that model posterior probabilities may be poorly evaluated by standard ABC techniques. We propose a novel approach based on a machine learning tool named random forests to conduct selection among the highly complex models covered by ABC algorithms. We thus modify the way Bayesian model selection is both understood and operated, in that we rephrase the inferential goal as a classification problem, first predicting the model that best fits the data with random forests and postponing the approximation of the posterior probability of the predicted MAP for a second stage also relying on random forests. Compared with earlier implementations of ABC model choice, the ABC random forest approach offers several potential improvements: (i) it often has a larger discriminative power among the competing models, (ii) it is more robust against the number and choice of statistics summarizing the data, (iii) the computing effort is drastically reduced (with a gain in computation efficiency of at least fifty), and (iv) it includes an approximation of the posterior probability of the selected model. The call to random forests will undoubtedly extend the range of size of datasets and complexity of models that ABC can handle. We illustrate the power of this novel methodology by analyzing controlled experiments as well as genuine population genetics datasets. The proposed methodologies are implemented in the R package abcrf available on the CRAN.

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