iSCAN: Identifying Causal Mechanism Shifts among Nonlinear Additive Noise Models

by   Tianyu Chen, et al.

Structural causal models (SCMs) are widely used in various disciplines to represent causal relationships among variables in complex systems. Unfortunately, the true underlying directed acyclic graph (DAG) structure is often unknown, and determining it from observational or interventional data remains a challenging task. However, in many situations, the end goal is to identify changes (shifts) in causal mechanisms between related SCMs rather than recovering the entire underlying DAG structure. Examples include analyzing gene regulatory network structure changes between healthy and cancerous individuals or understanding variations in biological pathways under different cellular contexts. This paper focuses on identifying functional mechanism shifts in two or more related SCMs over the same set of variables – without estimating the entire DAG structure of each SCM. Prior work under this setting assumed linear models with Gaussian noises; instead, in this work we assume that each SCM belongs to the more general class of nonlinear additive noise models (ANMs). A key contribution of this work is to show that the Jacobian of the score function for the mixture distribution allows for identification of shifts in general non-parametric functional mechanisms. Once the shifted variables are identified, we leverage recent work to estimate the structural differences, if any, for the shifted variables. Experiments on synthetic and real-world data are provided to showcase the applicability of this approach.


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