Randomized Experimental Design for Causal Graph Discovery

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 27 (NIPS 2014)

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Huining Hu, Zhentao Li, Adrian R. Vetta


We examine the number of controlled experiments required to discover a causal graph. Hauser and Buhlmann showed that the number of experiments required is logarithmic in the cardinality of maximum undirected clique in the essential graph. Their lower bounds, however, assume that the experiment designer cannot use randomization in selecting the experiments. We show that significant improvements are possible with the aid of randomization – in an adversarial (worst-case) setting, the designer can then recover the causal graph using at most O(log log n) experiments in expectation. This bound cannot be improved; we show it is tight for some causal graphs. We then show that in a non-adversarial (average-case) setting, even larger improvements are possible: if the causal graph is chosen uniformly at random under a Erdös-Rényi model then the expected number of experiments to discover the causal graph is constant. Finally, we present computer simulations to complement our theoretic results. Our work exploits a structural characterization of essential graphs by Andersson et al. Their characterization is based upon a set of orientation forcing operations. Our results show a distinction between which forcing operations are most important in worst-case and average-case settings.