Stochastic Complexity for Testing Conditional Independence on Discrete Data

Marx, Alexander and Vreeken, Jilles
(2018) Stochastic Complexity for Testing Conditional Independence on Discrete Data.
In: NeurIPS 2018 Workshop on Causal Learning.
Conference: NeurIPS Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems

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Abstract

Testing for conditional independence is a core aspect of constraint-based causal discovery. Although commonly used tests are perfect in theory, they often fail to reject independence in practice, especially when conditioning on multiple variables. We focus on discrete data and propose a new test based on the notion of algorithmic independence that we instantiate using stochastic complexity. Amongst others, we show that our proposed test, SCI, is an asymptotically unbiased as well as L2 consistent estimator for conditional mutual information (CMI). Further, we show that SCI can be reformulated to find a sensible threshold for CMI that works well on limited samples. Empirical evaluation shows that SCI has a lower type II error than commonly used tests. As a result, we obtain a higher recall when we use SCI in causal discovery algorithms, without compromising the precision.

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