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Xin Bing, Dian Jin, Yuqian Zhang

Vintage factor analysis is one important type of factor analysis that aims to first find a low-dimensional representation of the original data, and then to seek a rotation such that the rotated low-dimensional representation is scientifically meaningful. Perhaps the most widely used vintage factor analysis is the Principal Component Analysis (PCA) followed by the varimax rotation. Despite its popularity, little theoretical guarantee can be provided mainly because varimax rotation requires to solve a non-convex optimization over the set of orthogonal matrices. In this paper, we propose a deflation varimax procedure that solves each row of an orthogonal matrix sequentially. In addition to its net computational gain and flexibility, we are able to fully establish theoretical guarantees for the proposed procedure in a broad context. Adopting this new varimax approach as the second step after PCA, we further analyze this two step procedure under a general class of factor models. Our results show that it estimates the factor loading matrix in the optimal rate when the signal-to-noise-ratio (SNR) is moderate or large. In the low SNR regime, we offer possible improvement over using PCA and the deflation procedure when the additive noise under the factor model is structured. The modified procedure is shown to be optimal in all SNR regimes. Our theory is valid for finite sample and allows the number of the latent factors to grow with the sample size as well as the ambient dimension to grow with, or even exceed, the sample size. Extensive simulation and real data analysis further corroborate our theoretical findings.

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Yuqian Zhang, Abhishek Chakrabortty, Jelena Bradic

Average treatment effect (ATE) estimation is an essential problem in the causal inference literature, which has received significant recent attention, especially with the presence of high-dimensional confounders. We consider the ATE estimation problem in high dimensions when the observed outcome (or label) itself is possibly missing. The labeling indicator's conditional propensity score is allowed to depend on the covariates, and also decay uniformly with sample size - thus allowing for the unlabeled data size to grow faster than the labeled data size. Such a setting fills in an important gap in both the semi-supervised (SS) and missing data literatures. We consider a missing at random (MAR) mechanism that allows selection bias - this is typically forbidden in the standard SS literature, and without a positivity condition - this is typically required in the missing data literature. We first propose a general doubly robust 'decaying' MAR (DR-DMAR) SS estimator for the ATE, which is constructed based on flexible (possibly non-parametric) nuisance estimators. The general DR-DMAR SS estimator is shown to be doubly robust, as well as asymptotically normal (and efficient) when all the nuisance models are correctly specified. Additionally, we propose a bias-reduced DR-DMAR SS estimator based on (parametric) targeted bias-reducing nuisance estimators along with a special asymmetric cross-fitting strategy. We demonstrate that the bias-reduced ATE estimator is asymptotically normal as long as either the outcome regression or the propensity score model is correctly specified. Moreover, the required sparsity conditions are weaker than all the existing doubly robust causal inference literature even under the regular supervised setting - this is a special degenerate case of our setting. Lastly, this work also contributes to the growing literature on generalizability in causal inference.

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Jiazhen Hong, Wei Qian, Yudong Chen, Yuqian Zhang

$k$-means clustering is a fundamental problem in various disciplines. This problem is nonconvex, and standard algorithms are only guaranteed to find a local optimum. Leveraging the structure of local solutions characterized in [1], we propose a general algorithmic framework for escaping undesirable local solutions and recovering the global solution (or the ground truth). This framework consists of alternating between the following two steps iteratively: (i) detect mis-specified clusters in a local solution and (ii) improve the current local solution by non-local operations. We discuss implementation of these steps, and elucidate how the proposed framework unifies variants of $k$-means algorithm in literature from a geometric perspective. In addition, we introduce two natural extensions of the proposed framework, where the initial number of clusters is misspecified. We provide theoretical justification for our approach, which is corroborated with extensive experiments.

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Yuqian Zhang, Jelena Bradic, Weijie Ji

This paper considers the inference for heterogeneous treatment effects in dynamic settings that covariates and treatments are longitudinal. We focus on high-dimensional cases that the sample size, $N$, is potentially much larger than the covariate vector's dimension, $d$. The marginal structural mean models are considered. We propose a "sequential model doubly robust" estimator constructed based on "moment targeted" nuisance estimators. Such nuisance estimators are carefully designed through non-standard loss functions, reducing the bias resulting from potential model misspecifications. We achieve $\sqrt N$-inference even when model misspecification occurs. We only require one nuisance model to be correctly specified at each time spot. Such model correctness conditions are weaker than all the existing work, even containing the literature on low dimensions.

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Jelena Bradic, Weijie Ji, Yuqian Zhang

This paper proposes a confidence interval construction for heterogeneous treatment effects in the context of multi-stage experiments with $N$ samples and high-dimensional, $d$, confounders. Our focus is on the case of $d\gg N$, but the results obtained also apply to low-dimensional cases. We showcase that the bias of regularized estimation, unavoidable in high-dimensional covariate spaces, is mitigated with a simple double-robust score. In this way, no additional bias removal is necessary, and we obtain root-$N$ inference results while allowing multi-stage interdependency of the treatments and covariates. Memoryless property is also not assumed; treatment can possibly depend on all previous treatment assignments and all previous multi-stage confounders. Our results rely on certain sparsity assumptions of the underlying dependencies. We discover new product rate conditions necessary for robust inference with dynamic treatments.

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Dian Jin, Xin Bing, Yuqian Zhang

The problem of finding the unique low dimensional decomposition of a given matrix has been a fundamental and recurrent problem in many areas. In this paper, we study the problem of seeking a unique decomposition of a low rank matrix $Y\in \mathbb{R}^{p\times n}$ that admits a sparse representation. Specifically, we consider $Y = A X\in \mathbb{R}^{p\times n}$ where the matrix $A\in \mathbb{R}^{p\times r}$ has full column rank, with $r < \min\{n,p\}$, and the matrix $X\in \mathbb{R}^{r\times n}$ is element-wise sparse. We prove that this sparse decomposition of $Y$ can be uniquely identified, up to some intrinsic signed permutation. Our approach relies on solving a nonconvex optimization problem constrained over the unit sphere. Our geometric analysis for the nonconvex optimization landscape shows that any {\em strict} local solution is close to the ground truth solution, and can be recovered by a simple data-driven initialization followed with any second order descent algorithm. At last, we corroborate these theoretical results with numerical experiments.

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Yuqian Zhang, Abhishek Chakrabortty, Jelena Bradic

Semi-supervised (SS) inference has received much attention in recent years. Apart from a moderate-sized labeled data, L, the SS setting is characterized by an additional, much larger sized, unlabeled data, U. The setting of |U| >> |L|, makes SS inference unique and different from the standard missing data problems, owing to natural violation of the so-called 'positivity' or 'overlap' assumption. However, most of the SS literature implicitly assumes L and U to be equally distributed, i.e., no selection bias in the labeling. Inferential challenges in missing at random (MAR) type labeling allowing for selection bias, are inevitably exacerbated by the decaying nature of the propensity score (PS). We address this gap for a prototype problem, the estimation of the response's mean. We propose a double robust SS (DRSS) mean estimator and give a complete characterization of its asymptotic properties. The proposed estimator is consistent as long as either the outcome or the PS model is correctly specified. When both models are correctly specified, we provide inference results with a non-standard consistency rate that depends on the smaller size |L|. The results are also extended to causal inference with imbalanced treatment groups. Further, we provide several novel choices of models and estimators of the decaying PS, including a novel offset logistic model and a stratified labeling model. We present their properties under both high and low dimensional settings. These may be of independent interest. Lastly, we present extensive simulations and also a real data application.

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Lijun Ding, Yuqian Zhang, Yudong Chen

Existing results for low-rank matrix recovery largely focus on quadratic loss, which enjoys favorable properties such as restricted strong convexity/smoothness (RSC/RSM) and well conditioning over all low rank matrices. However, many interesting problems involve non-quadratic loss do not satisfy such properties; examples including one-bit matrix sensing, one-bit matrix completion, and rank aggregation. For these problems, standard nonconvex approaches such as projected gradient with rank constraint alone (a.k.a. iterative hard thresholding) and Burer-Monteiro approach may perform badly in practice and have no satisfactory theory in guaranteeing global and efficient convergence. In this paper, we show that the critical component in low-rank recovery with non-quadratic loss is a regularity projection oracle, which restricts iterates to low-rank matrix within an appropriate bounded set, over which the loss function is well behaved and satisfies a set of relaxed RSC/RSM conditions. Accordingly, we analyze an (averaged) projected gradient method equipped with such an oracle, and prove that it converges globally and linearly. Our results apply to a wide range of non-quadratic problems including rank aggregation, one bit matrix sensing/completion, and more broadly generalized linear models with rank constraint.

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Yuqian Zhang, Qing Qu, John Wright

As science and engineering have become increasingly data-driven, the role of optimization has expanded to touch almost every stage of the data analysis pipeline, from the signal and data acquisition to modeling and prediction. The optimization problems encountered in practice are often nonconvex. While challenges vary from problem to problem, one common source of nonconvexity is nonlinearity in the data or measurement model. Nonlinear models often exhibit symmetries, creating complicated, nonconvex objective landscapes, with multiple equivalent solutions. Nevertheless, simple methods (e.g., gradient descent) often perform surprisingly well in practice. The goal of this survey is to highlight a class of tractable nonconvex problems, which can be understood through the lens of symmetries. These problems exhibit a characteristic geometric structure: local minimizers are symmetric copies of a single ``ground truth'' solution, while other critical points occur at balanced superpositions of symmetric copies of the ground truth, and exhibit negative curvature in directions that break the symmetry. This structure enables efficient methods to obtain global minimizers. We discuss examples of this phenomenon arising from a wide range of problems in imaging, signal processing, and data analysis. We highlight the key role of symmetry in shaping the objective landscape and discuss the different roles of rotational and discrete symmetries. This area is rich with observed phenomena and open problems; we close by highlighting directions for future research.

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