A simple example of Dirichlet process mixture inconsistency for the number of components

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 26 (NIPS 2013)

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Jeffrey W. Miller, Matthew T. Harrison


For data assumed to come from a finite mixture with an unknown number of components, it has become common to use Dirichlet process mixtures (DPMs) not only for density estimation, but also for inferences about the number of components. The typical approach is to use the posterior distribution on the number of components occurring so far --- that is, the posterior on the number of clusters in the observed data. However, it turns out that this posterior is not consistent --- it does not converge to the true number of components. In this note, we give an elementary demonstration of this inconsistency in what is perhaps the simplest possible setting: a DPM with normal components of unit variance, applied to data from a mixture" with one standard normal component. Further, we find that this example exhibits severe inconsistency: instead of going to 1, the posterior probability that there is one cluster goes to 0."