Multimodal nested sampling: an efficient and robust alternative to Markov Chain Monte Carlo methods for astronomical data analyses
In performing a Bayesian analysis of astronomical data, two difficult problems often emerge. First, in estimating the parameters of some model for the data, the resulting posterior distribution may be multimodal or exhibit pronounced (curving) degeneracies, which can cause problems for traditional Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) sampling methods. Secondly, in selecting between a set of competing models, calculation of the Bayesian evidence for each model is computationally expensive using existing methods such as thermodynamic integration. The nested sampling method introduced by Skilling, has greatly reduced the computational expense of calculating evidence and also produces posterior inferences as a by-product. This method has been applied successfully in cosmological applications by Mukherjee, Parkinson & Liddle, but their implementation was efficient only for unimodal distributions without pronounced degeneracies. Shaw, Bridges & Hobson recently introduced a clustered nested sampling method which is significantly more efficient in sampling from multimodal posteriors and also determines the expectation and variance of the final evidence from a single run of the algorithm, hence providing a further increase in efficiency. In this paper, we build on the work of Shaw et al. and present three new methods for sampling and evidence evaluation from distributions that may contain multiple modes and significant degeneracies in very high dimensions; we also present an even more efficient technique for estimating the uncertainty on the evaluated evidence. These methods lead to a further substantial improvement in sampling efficiency and robustness, and are applied to two toy problems to demonstrate the accuracy and economy of the evidence calculation and parameter estimation. Finally, we discuss the use of these methods in performing Bayesian object detection in astronomical data sets, and show that they significantly outperform existing MCMC techniques. An implementation of our methods will be publicly released shortly.
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
- Pub Date:
- February 2008
- methods: data analysis;
- methods: statistical;
- 14 pages, 11 figures, submitted to MNRAS, some major additions to the previous version in response to the referee's comments