Reduced-Dimensional Monte Carlo Maximum Likelihood for Latent Gaussian Random Field Models

Jaewoo Park, Murali Haran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Monte Carlo maximum likelihood (MCML) provides an elegant approach to find maximum likelihood estimators (MLEs) for latent variable models. However, MCML algorithms are computationally expensive when the latent variables are high-dimensional and correlated, as is the case for latent Gaussian random field models. Latent Gaussian random field models are widely used, for example, in building flexible regression models and in the interpolation of spatially dependent data in many research areas such as analyzing count data in disease modeling and presence-absence satellite images of ice sheets. We propose a computationally efficient MCML algorithm by using a projection-based approach to reduce the dimensions of the random effects. We develop an iterative method for finding an effective importance function; this is generally a challenging problem and is crucial for the MCML algorithm to be computationally feasible. We find that our method is applicable to both continuous (latent Gaussian process) and discrete domain (latent Gaussian Markov random field) models. We illustrate the application of our methods to challenging simulated and real data examples for which maximum likelihood estimation would otherwise be very challenging. Furthermore, we study an often overlooked challenge in MCML approaches to latent variable models: practical issues in calculating standard errors of the resulting estimates, and assessing whether resulting confidence intervals provide nominal coverage. Our study therefore provides useful insights into the details of implementing MCML algorithms for high-dimensional latent variable models. Supplementary materials for this article are available online.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-283
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Computational and Graphical Statistics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Statistics, Probability and Uncertainty
  • Discrete Mathematics and Combinatorics


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