Nonparametric Bayesian inference of the microcanonical stochastic block model

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A principled approach to characterize the hidden modular structure of networks is to formulate generative models, and then infer their parameters from data. When the desired structure is composed of modules or "communities", a suitable choice for this task is the stochastic block model (SBM), where nodes are divided into groups, and the placement of edges is conditioned on the group memberships. Here, we present a nonparametric Bayesian method to infer the modular structure of empirical networks, including the number of modules and their hierarchical organization. We focus on a microcanonical variant of the SBM, where the structure is imposed via hard constraints. We show how this simple model variation allows simultaneously for two important improvements over more traditional inference approaches: 1. Deeper Bayesian hierarchies, with noninformative priors replaced by sequences of priors and hyperpriors, that not only remove limitations that seriously degrade the inference on large networks, but also reveal structures at multiple scales; 2. A very efficient inference algorithm that scales well not only for networks with a large number of nodes and edges, but also with an unlimited number of modules. We show also how this approach can be used to sample modular hierarchies from the posterior distribution, as well as to perform model selection. Furthermore, we expose a direct equivalence between our microcanonical approach and alternative derivations based on the canonical SBM.
Original languageEnglish
Article number012317
Number of pages21
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2017


  • physics.soc-ph
  • stat.ML


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