NeurIPS 2021
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Your Model is Wrong: Robustness and misspecification in probabilistic modeling

Diana Cai · Sameer Deshpande · Michael Hughes · Tamara Broderick · Trevor Campbell · Nick Foti · Barbara Engelhardt · Sinead Williamson

Probabilistic modeling is a foundation of modern data analysis -- due in part to the flexibility and interpretability of these methods -- and has been applied to numerous application domains, such as the biological sciences, social and political sciences, engineering, and health care. However, any probabilistic model relies on assumptions that are necessarily a simplification of complex real-life processes; thus, any such model is inevitably misspecified in practice. In addition, as data set sizes grow and probabilistic models become more complex, applying a probabilistic modeling analysis often relies on algorithmic approximations, such as approximate Bayesian inference, numerical approximations, or data summarization methods. Thus in many cases, approximations used for efficient computation lead to fitting a misspecified model by design (e.g., variational inference). Importantly, in some cases, this misspecification leads to useful model inferences, but in others it may lead to misleading and potentially harmful inferences that may then be used for important downstream tasks for, e.g., making scientific inferences or policy decisions.

The goal of the workshop is to bring together researchers focused on methods, applications, and theory to outline some of the core problems in specifying and applying probabilistic models in modern data contexts along with current state-of-the-art solutions. Participants will leave the workshop with (i) exposure to recent advances in the field, (ii) an idea of the current major challenges in the field, and (iii) an introduction to methods meeting these challenges. These goals will be accomplished through a series of invited and contributed talks, poster spotlights, poster sessions, as well as ample time for discussion and live Q&A.

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