Mixture models with a prior on the number of components

22 Feb 2015  ·  Jeffrey W. Miller, Matthew T. Harrison ·

A natural Bayesian approach for mixture models with an unknown number of components is to take the usual finite mixture model with Dirichlet weights, and put a prior on the number of components---that is, to use a mixture of finite mixtures (MFM). While inference in MFMs can be done with methods such as reversible jump Markov chain Monte Carlo, it is much more common to use Dirichlet process mixture (DPM) models because of the relative ease and generality with which DPM samplers can be applied. In this paper, we show that, in fact, many of the attractive mathematical properties of DPMs are also exhibited by MFMs---a simple exchangeable partition distribution, restaurant process, random measure representation, and in certain cases, a stick-breaking representation. Consequently, the powerful methods developed for inference in DPMs can be directly applied to MFMs as well. We illustrate with simulated and real data, including high-dimensional gene expression data.

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