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Workshop: Machine Learning and the Physical Sciences

Normalizing Flows for Hierarchical Bayesian Analysis: A Gravitational Wave Population Study

David Ruhe · Kaze Wong · Miles Cranmer · Patrick Forré


We propose parameterizing the population distribution of the gravitational wave population modeling framework (Hierarchical Bayesian Analysis) with a normalizing flow. We first demonstrate the merit of this method on illustrative experiments and then analyze four parameters of the latest LIGO data release: primary mass, secondary mass, redshift, and effective spin. Our results show that despite the small and notoriously noisy dataset, the posterior predictive distributions (assuming a prior over the free parameters of the flow) of the observed gravitational wave population recover structure that agrees with robust previous phenomenological modeling results while being less susceptible to biases introduced by less-flexible distribution models. Therefore, the method forms a promising flexible, reliable replacement for population inference distributions, even when data is highly noisy.

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