Just before Xmas, Dootika Vats (Warwick) and Christina Knudson arXived a paper on a re-evaluation of the ultra-popular 1992 Gelman and Rubin MCMC convergence diagnostic. Which compares within-variance and between-variance on parallel chains started from hopefully dispersed initial values. Or equivalently an under-estimating and an over-estimating estimate of the MCMC average. In this paper, the authors take advantage of the variance estimators developed by Galin Jones, James Flegal, Dootika Vats and co-authors, which are batch mean estimators consistently estimating the asymptotic variance. They also discuss the choice of a cut-off on the ratio R of variance estimates, i.e., how close to one need it be? By relating R to the effective sample size (for which we also have reservations), which gives another way of calibrating the cut-off. The main conclusion of the study is that the recommended 1.1 bound is too large for a reasonable proximity to the true value of the Bayes estimator (Disclaimer: The above ABCruise header is unrelated with the paper, apart from its use of the Titanic dataset!)
In fact, I have other difficulties than setting the cut-off point with the original scheme as a way to assess MCMC convergence or lack thereof, among which
- its dependence on the parameterisation of the chain and on the estimation of a specific target function
- its dependence on the starting distribution which makes the time to convergence not absolutely meaningful
- the confusion between getting to stationarity and exploring the whole target
- its missing the option to resort to subsampling schemes to attain pseudo-independence or scale time to convergence (albeit see 3. above)
- a potential bias brought by the stopping rule.