BACKSHIFT: Learning causal cyclic graphs from unknown shift interventions

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 28 (NIPS 2015)

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Dominik Rothenhäusler, Christina Heinze, Jonas Peters, Nicolai Meinshausen


We propose a simple method to learn linear causal cyclic models in the presence of latent variables. The method relies on equilibrium data of the model recorded under a specific kind of interventions (``shift interventions''). The location and strength of these interventions do not have to be known and can be estimated from the data. Our method, called BACKSHIFT, only uses second moments of the data and performs simple joint matrix diagonalization, applied to differences between covariance matrices. We give a sufficient and necessary condition for identifiability of the system, which is fulfilled almost surely under some quite general assumptions if and only if there are at least three distinct experimental settings, one of which can be pure observational data. We demonstrate the performance on some simulated data and applications in flow cytometry and financial time series.