Order-Independent Constraint-Based Causal Structure Learning

Diego Colombo, Marloes H. Maathuis.

Year: 2014, Volume: 15, Issue: 116, Pages: 3921−3962


We consider constraint-based methods for causal structure learning, such as the PC-, FCI-, RFCI- and CCD- algorithms (Spirtes et al., 1993, 2000; Richardson, 1996; Colombo et al., 2012; Claassen et al., 2013). The first step of all these algorithms consists of the adjacency search of the PC-algorithm. The PC-algorithm is known to be order-dependent, in the sense that the output can depend on the order in which the variables are given. This order-dependence is a minor issue in low- dimensional settings. We show, however, that it can be very pronounced in high-dimensional settings, where it can lead to highly variable results. We propose several modifications of the PC-algorithm (and hence also of the other algorithms) that remove part or all of this order-dependence. All proposed modifications are consistent in high-dimensional settings under the same conditions as their original counterparts. We compare the PC-, FCI-, and RFCI-algorithms and their modifications in simulation studies and on a yeast gene expression data set. We show that our modifications yield similar performance in low- dimensional settings and improved performance in high- dimensional settings. All software is implemented in the R-package pcalg.