2019 Dempster Prize Winner: Wenshuo Wang

November 8, 2019
The Department of Statistics would like to congratulate Wenshuo Wang on being named the winner of the 2019 Dempster Prize, for his paper "Metropolized Knockoff Sampling" (abstract below).

Wenshuo presented his paper on Friday, November 15th.
More information about the Dempster Prize, including past winners, can be found at https://statistics.fas.harvard.edu/dempster-award.
Model-X knockoffs is a wrapper that transforms essentially any feature importance measure into a variable selection algorithm, which discovers true effects while rigorously controlling the expected fraction of false positives. A frequently discussed challenge to apply this method is to construct knockoff variables, which are synthetic variables obeying a crucial exchangeability property with the explanatory variables under study. This paper introduces techniques for knockoff generation in great generality: we provide a sequential characterization of all possible knockoff distributions, which leads to a Metropolis–Hastings formulation of an exact knockoff sampler. We further show how to use conditional independence structure to speed up computations. Combining these two threads, we introduce an explicit set of sequential algorithms and empirically demonstrate their effectiveness. Our theoretical analysis proves that our algorithms achieve near-optimal computational complexity in certain cases. The techniques we develop are sufficiently rich to enable knockoff sampling in challenging models including cases where the covariates are continuous and heavy-tailed, and follow a graphical model such as the Ising model.