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Pre-modelling via BART

George, E (Pennsylvania)
Thursday 28 February 2008, 11:00-12:00

Seminar Room 1, Newton Institute


Consider the canonical regression set-up where one wants to learn about the relationship between y, a variable of interest, and x_1,...,x_p, p potential predictor variables. Although one may ultimately want to build a parametric model to describe and summarize this relationship, preliminary analysis via flexible nonparametric models may provide useful guidance. For this purpose we propose BART (Bayesian Additive Regression Trees), a flexible nonparametric ensemble Bayes approach for estimating f(x_1,...,x_p), which is E(Y|x_1,...,x_p), for obtaining predictive regions for future y, for describing the marginal effects of subsets of x_1,...,x_p and for model-free variable selection. Essentially, BART approximates f by a Bayesian 'sum-of-trees' model where fitting and inference are accomplished via an iterative backfitting MCMC algorithm. By using a large number of trees, which yields a redundant basis for f, BART is seen to be remarkably effective at finding highly nonlinear relationships hidden within a large number of irrelevant potential predictors. BART also provides an omnibus test: the absence of any relationship between y and any subset of x_1,...,x_p is indicated when BART posterior intervals for f reveal no signal. (This is joint work with Hugh Chipman and Robert McCulloch.)


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