An improper estimator with optimal excess risk in misspecified density estimation and logistic regression

Published in arXiv preprint, 2019

J. Mourtada, S. Gaïffas

We introduce a procedure for predictive conditional density estimation under logarithmic loss, which we call SMP (Sample Minmax Predictor). This predictor minimizes a new general excess risk bound, which critically remains valid under model misspecification. On standard examples, this bound scales as $d / n$ where $d$ is the dimension of the model and $n$ the sample size, regardless of the true distribution. The SMP, which is an improper (out-of-model) procedure, improves over proper (within-model) estimators (such as the maximum likelihood estimator), whose excess risk can degrade arbitrarily in the misspecified case. For density estimation, our bounds improve over approaches based on online-to-batch conversion, by removing suboptimal $\log n$ factors, addressing an open problem from Grünwald and Kotłowski for the considered models. For the Gaussian linear model, the SMP admits an explicit expression, and its expected excess risk in the general misspecified case is at most twice the minimax excess risk in the well-specified case, but without any condition on the noise variance or approximation error of the linear model. For logistic regression, a penalized SMP can be computed efficiently by training two logistic regressions, and achieves a non-asymptotic excess risk of $O((d + B^2R^2)/n)$, where $R$ is a bound on the norm of the features and $B$ the norm of the optimal linear predictor. This improves the rates of proper (within-model) estimators, since such procedures can achieve no better rate than $\min(B R / \sqrt n, d e^{BR}/n)$ in general. This also provides a computationally more efficient alternative to approaches based on online-to-batch conversion of Bayesian mixture procedures, which require approximate posterior sampling, thereby partly answering a question by Foster et al.

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