Characterization and Learning of Causal Graphs with Small Conditioning Sets

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Murat Kocaoglu


Constraint-based causal discovery algorithms learn part of the causal graph structure by systematically testing conditional independences observed in the data. These algorithms, such as the PC algorithm and its variants, rely on graphical characterizations of the so-called equivalence class of causal graphs proposed by Pearl. However, constraint-based causal discovery algorithms struggle when data is limited since conditional independence tests quickly lose their statistical power, especially when the conditioning set is large. To address this, we propose using conditional independence tests where the size of the conditioning set is upper bounded by some integer k for robust causal discovery. The existing graphical characterizations of the equivalence classes of causal graphs are not applicable when we cannot leverage all the conditional independence statements. We first define the notion of k-Markov equivalence: Two causal graphs are k-Markov equivalent if they entail the same conditional independence constraints where the conditioning set size is upper bounded by k. We propose a novel representation that allows us to graphically characterize k-Markov equivalence between two causal graphs. We propose a sound constraint-based algorithm called the k-PC algorithm for learning this equivalence class. Finally, we conduct synthetic, and semi-synthetic experiments to demonstrate that the k-PC algorithm enables more robust causal discovery in the small sample regime compared to the baseline algorithms.