Reproducible Model Selection Using Bagged Posteriors


Bayesian model selection is premised on the assumption that the data are generated from one of the postulated models. However, in many applications, all of these models are incorrect (that is, there is misspecification). When the models are misspecified, two or more models can provide a nearly equally good fit to the data, in which case Bayesian model selection can be highly unstable, potentially leading to self-contradictory findings. To remedy this instability, we propose to use bagging on the posterior distribution ("BayesBag") – that is, to average the posterior model probabilities over many bootstrapped datasets. We provide theoretical results characterizing the asymptotic behavior of the posterior and the bagged posterior in the (misspecified) model selection setting. We empirically assess the BayesBag approach on synthetic and real-world data in (i) feature selection for linear regression and (ii) phylogenetic tree reconstruction. Our theory and experiments show that, when all models are misspecified, BayesBag (a) provides greater reproducibility and (b) places posterior mass on optimal models more reliably, compared to the usual Bayesian posterior; on the other hand, under correct specification, BayesBag is slightly more conservative than the usual posterior, in the sense that BayesBag posterior probabilities tend to be slightly farther from the extremes of zero and one. Overall, our results demonstrate that BayesBag provides an easy-to-use and widely applicable approach that improves upon Bayesian model selection by making it more stable and reproducible.

Bayesian Analysis 18(1): 79-104