iSCAN: Identifying Causal Mechanism Shifts among Nonlinear Additive Noise Models

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper


Tianyu Chen, Kevin Bello, Bryon Aragam, Pradeep Ravikumar


Structural causal models (SCMs) are widely used in various disciplines to represent causal relationships among variables in complex systems.Unfortunately, the underlying causal structure is often unknown, and estimating it from data remains a challenging task. In many situations, however, the end goal is to localize the changes (shifts) in the causal mechanisms between related datasets instead of learning the full causal structure of the individual datasets. Some applications include root cause analysis, analyzing gene regulatory network structure changes between healthy and cancerous individuals, or explaining distribution shifts. This paper focuses on identifying the causal mechanism shifts in two or more related datasets over the same set of variables---without estimating the entire DAG structure of each SCM.Prior work under this setting assumed linear models with Gaussian noises; instead, in this work we assume that each SCM belongs to the more general class of nonlinear additive noise models (ANMs).A key technical contribution of this work is to show that the Jacobian of the score function for the mixture distribution allows for the identification of shifts under general non-parametric functional mechanisms.Once the shifted variables are identified, we leverage recent work to estimate the structural differences, if any, for the shifted variables.Experiments on synthetic and real-world data are provided to showcase the applicability of this approach.Code implementing the proposed method is open-source and publicly available at