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Beyond Uniform Priors in Bayesian Network Structure Learning

by   Marco Scutari, et al.
University of Oxford

Bayesian network structure learning is often performed in a Bayesian setting, evaluating candidate structures using their posterior probabilities for a given data set. Score-based algorithms then use those posterior probabilities as an objective function and return the maximum a posteriori network as the learned model. For discrete Bayesian networks, the canonical choice for a posterior score is the Bayesian Dirichlet equivalent uniform (BDeu) marginal likelihood with a uniform (U) graph prior, which assumes a uniform prior both on the network structures and on the parameters of the networks. In this paper, we investigate the problems arising from these assumptions, focusing on those caused by small sample sizes and sparse data. We then propose an alternative posterior score: the Bayesian Dirichlet sparse (BDs) marginal likelihood with a marginal uniform (MU) graph prior. Like U+BDeu, MU+BDs does not require any prior information on the probabilistic structure of the data and can be used as a replacement noninformative score. We study its theoretical properties and we evaluate its performance in an extensive simulation study, showing that MU+BDs is both more accurate than U+BDeu in learning the structure of the network and competitive in predicting power, while not being computationally more complex to estimate.


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