Pillow, Jonathan W., Scott, James

Characterizing the information carried by neural populations in the brain requires accurate statistical models of neural spike responses. The negative-binomial distribution provides a convenient model for over-dispersed spike counts, that is, responses with greater-than-Poisson variability. Here we describe a powerful data-augmentation framework for fully Bayesian inference in neural models with negative-binomial spiking. Our approach relies on a recently described latent-variable representation of the negative-binomial distribution, which equates it to a Polya-gamma mixture of normals. This framework provides a tractable, conditionally Gaussian representation of the posterior that can be used to design efficient EM and Gibbs sampling based algorithms for inference in regression and dynamic factor models. We apply the model to neural data from primate retina and show that it substantially outperforms Poisson regression on held-out data, and reveals latent structure underlying spike count correlations in simultaneously recorded spike trains.

Polson, Nicholas G., Scott, James G., Windle, Jesse

We propose the Bayesian bridge estimator for regularized regression and classification. Two key mixture representations for the Bayesian bridge model are developed: (1) a scale mixture of normals with respect to an alpha-stable random variable; and (2) a mixture of Bartlett--Fejer kernels (or triangle densities) with respect to a two-component mixture of gamma random variables. Both lead to MCMC methods for posterior simulation, and these methods turn out to have complementary domains of maximum efficiency. The first representation is a well known result due to West (1987), and is the better choice for collinear design matrices. The second representation is new, and is more efficient for orthogonal problems, largely because it avoids the need to deal with exponentially tilted stable random variables. It also provides insight into the multimodality of the joint posterior distribution, a feature of the bridge model that is notably absent under ridge or lasso-type priors. We prove a theorem that extends this representation to a wider class of densities representable as scale mixtures of betas, and provide an explicit inversion formula for the mixing distribution. The connections with slice sampling and scale mixtures of normals are explored. On the practical side, we find that the Bayesian bridge model outperforms its classical cousin in estimation and prediction across a variety of data sets, both simulated and real. We also show that the MCMC for fitting the bridge model exhibits excellent mixing properties, particularly for the global scale parameter. This makes for a favorable contrast with analogous MCMC algorithms for other sparse Bayesian models. All methods described in this paper are implemented in the R package BayesBridge. An extensive set of simulation results are provided in two supplemental files.

Polson, Nicholas G., Scott, James G., Windle, Jesse

We propose a new data-augmentation strategy for fully Bayesian inference in models with binomial likelihoods. The approach appeals to a new class of Polya-Gamma distributions, which are constructed in detail. A variety of examples are presented to show the versatility of the method, including logistic regression, negative binomial regression, nonlinear mixed-effects models, and spatial models for count data. In each case, our data-augmentation strategy leads to simple, effective methods for posterior inference that: (1) circumvent the need for analytic approximations, numerical integration, or Metropolis-Hastings; and (2) outperform other known data-augmentation strategies, both in ease of use and in computational efficiency. All methods, including an efficient sampler for the Polya-Gamma distribution, are implemented in the R package BayesLogit. In the technical supplement appended to the end of the paper, we provide further details regarding the generation of Polya-Gamma random variables; the empirical benchmarks reported in the main manuscript; and the extension of the basic data-augmentation framework to contingency tables and multinomial outcomes.

Galy-Fajou, Théo, Wenzel, Florian, Donner, Christian, Opper, Manfred

We propose a new scalable multi-class Gaussian process classification approach building on a novel modified softmax likelihood function. The new likelihood has two benefits: it leads to well-calibrated uncertainty estimates and allows for an efficient latent variable augmentation. The augmented model has the advantage that it is conditionally conjugate leading to a fast variational inference method via block coordinate ascent updates. Previous approaches suffered from a trade-off between uncertainty calibration and speed. Our experiments show that our method leads to well-calibrated uncertainty estimates and competitive predictive performance while being up to two orders faster than the state of the art.

Dumitrascu, Bianca, Feng, Karen, Engelhardt, Barbara E

We address the problem of regret minimization in logistic contextual bandits, where a learner decides among sequential actions or arms given their respective contexts to maximize binary rewards. Using a fast inference procedure with Polya-Gamma distributed augmentation variables, we propose an improved version of Thompson Sampling, a Bayesian formulation of contextual bandits with near-optimal performance. Our approach, Polya-Gamma augmented Thompson Sampling (PG-TS), achieves state-of-the-art performance on simulated and real data. PG-TS explores the action space efficiently and exploits high-reward arms, quickly converging to solutions of low regret. Its explicit estimation of the posterior distribution of the context feature covariance leads to substantial empirical gains over approximate approaches. PG-TS is the first approach to demonstrate the benefits of Polya-Gamma augmentation in bandits and to propose an efficient Gibbs sampler for approximating the analytically unsolvable integral of logistic contextual bandits.