Robust Bayesian Inference for Discrete Outcomes with the Total Variation Distance


Models of discrete-valued outcomes are easily misspecified if the data exhibit zero-inflation, overdispersion or contamination. Without additional knowledge about the existence and nature of this misspecification, model inference and prediction are adversely affected. Here, we introduce a robust discrepancy-based Bayesian approach using the Total Variation Distance (TVD). In the process, we address and resolve two challenges: First, we study convergence and robustness properties of a computationally efficient estimator for the TVD between a parametric model and the data-generating mechanism. Secondly, we provide an efficient inference method adapted from Lyddon et al. (2017) which corresponds to formulating an uninformative nonparametric prior directly over the data-generating mechanism. Lastly, we empirically demonstrate that our approach is robust and significantly improves predictive performance on a range of simulated and real world data.

Submitted to ICML