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Scott Schmidler : Mixing times for non-stationary processes

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Markov chain methods for Monte Carlo simulation of complex physical or statistical models often require significant tuning. Recent theoretical progress has renewed interest in "adaptive" Markov chain algorithms which learn from their sample history. However, these algorithms produce non-Markovian, time-inhomogeneous, irreversible stochastic processes, making rigorous analysis challenging. We show that lower bounds on the mixing times of these processes can be obtained using familiar ideas of hitting times and conductance from the theory of reversible Markov chains. The bounds obtained are sufficient to demonstrate slow mixing of several recently proposed algorithms including adaptive Metropolis kernels and the equi-energy sampler on some multimodal target distributions. These results provide the first non-trivial bounds on the mixing times of adaptive MCMC samplers, and suggest a way of classifying adaptive schemes that leads to new hybrid algorithms. Many open problems remain.

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