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  1. Many recent developments in causal inference, and functional estimation problems more generally, have been motivated by the fact that classical one-step (first-order) debiasing methods, or their more recent sample-split double machine-learning avatars, can outperform plugin estimators under surprisingly weak conditions. These first-order corrections improve on plugin estimators in a black-box fashion, and consequently are often used in conjunction with powerful off-the-shelf estimation methods. These first-order methods are however provably suboptimal in a minimax sense for functional estimation when the nuisance functions live in Holder-type function spaces. This suboptimality of first-order debiasing has motivated the development of "higher-order" debiasing methods. The resulting estimators are, in some cases, provably optimal over Holder-type spaces, but both the estimators which are minimax-optimal and their analyses are crucially tied to properties of the underlying function space. In this paper we investigate the fundamental limits of structure-agnostic functional estimation, where relatively weak conditions are placed on the underlying nuisance functions. We show that there is a strong sense in which existing first-order methods are optimal. We achieve this goal by providing a formalization of the problem of functional estimation with black-box nuisance function estimates, and deriving minimax lower bounds for this problem. Our results highlight some clear tradeoffs in functional estimation -- if we wish to remain agnostic to the underlying nuisance function spaces, impose only high-level rate conditions, and maintain compatibility with black-box nuisance estimators then first-order methods are optimal. When we have an understanding of the structure of the underlying nuisance functions then carefully constructed higher-order estimators can outperform first-order estimators. 
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  2. Causal effects are often characterized with averages, which can give an incomplete picture of the underlying counterfactual distributions. Here we consider estimating the entire counterfactual density and generic functionals thereof. We focus on two kinds of target parameters. The first is a density approximation, defined by a projection onto a finite-dimensional model using a generalized distance metric, which includes f-divergences as well as Lp norms. The second is the distance between counterfactual densities, which can be used as a more nuanced effect measure than the mean difference, and as a tool for model selection. We study nonparametric efficiency bounds for these targets, giving results for smooth but otherwise generic models and distances. Importantly, we show how these bounds connect to means of particular non-trivial functions of counterfactuals, linking the problems of density and mean estimation. We go on to propose doubly robust-style estimators for the density approximations and distances, and study their rates of convergence, showing they can be optimally efficient in large nonparametric models. We also give analogous methods for model selection and aggregation, when many models may be available and of interest. Our results all hold for generic models and distances, but throughout we highlight what happens for particular choices, such as L2 projections on linear models, and KL projections on exponential families. Finally we illustrate by estimating the density of CD4 count among patients with HIV, had all been treated with combination therapy versus zidovudine alone, as well as a density effect. Our results suggest combination therapy may have increased CD4 count most for high-risk patients. Our methods are implemented in the freely available R package npcausal on GitHub. 
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  3. Rates of missing data often depend on record-keeping policies and thus may change across times and locations, even when the underlying features are comparatively stable. In this paper, we introduce the problem of Domain Adaptation under Missingness Shift (DAMS). Here, (labeled) source data and (unlabeled) target data would be exchangeable but for different missing data mechanisms. We show that if missing data indicators are available, DAMS reduces to covariate shift. Addressing cases where such indicators are absent, we establish the following theoretical results for underreporting completely at random: (i) covariate shift is violated (adaptation is required); (ii) the optimal linear source predictor can perform arbitrarily worse on the target domain than always predicting the mean; (iii) the optimal target predictor can be identified, even when the missingness rates themselves are not; and (iv) for linear models, a simple analytic adjustment yields consistent estimates of the optimal target parameters. In experiments on synthetic and semi-synthetic data, we demonstrate the promise of our methods when assumptions hold. Finally, we discuss a rich family of future extensions. 
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  4. We introduce a new notion of regularity of an estimator called median regularity. We prove that uniformly valid (honest) inference for a functional is possible if and only if there exists a median regular estimator of that functional. To our knowledge, such a notion of regularity that is necessary for uniformly valid inference is unavailable in the literature. 
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  5. Despite the emergence of principled methods for domain adaptation under label shift, their sensitivity to shifts in class conditional distributions is precariously under explored. Meanwhile, popular deep domain adaptation heuristics tend to falter when faced with label proportions shifts. While several papers modify these heuristics in attempts to handle label proportions shifts, inconsistencies in evaluation standards, datasets, and baselines make it difficult to gauge the current best practices. In this paper, we introduce RLSbench, a large-scale benchmark for relaxed label shift, consisting of >500 distribution shift pairs spanning vision, tabular, and language modalities, with varying label proportions. Unlike existing benchmarks, which primarily focus on shifts in class-conditional p(x|y), our benchmark also focuses on label marginal shifts. First, we assess 13 popular domain adaptation methods, demonstrating more widespread failures under label proportion shifts than were previously known. Next, we develop an effective two-step meta-algorithm that is compatible with most domain adaptation heuristics: (i) pseudo-balance the data at each epoch; and (ii) adjust the final classifier with target label distribution estimate. The meta-algorithm improves existing domain adaptation heuristics under large label proportion shifts, often by 2--10\% accuracy points, while conferring minimal effect (<0.5\%) when label proportions do not shift. We hope that these findings and the availability of RLSbench will encourage researchers to rigorously evaluate proposed methods in relaxed label shift settings. 
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  6. We consider the task of heavy-tailed statistical estimation given streaming p-dimensional samples. This could also be viewed as stochastic optimization under heavy-tailed distributions, with an additional O(p) space complexity constraint. We design a clipped stochastic gradient descent algorithm and provide an improved analysis, under a more nuanced condition on the noise of the stochastic gradients, which we show is critical when analyzing stochastic optimization problems arising from general statistical estimation problems. Our results guarantee convergence not just in expectation but with exponential concentration, and moreover does so using O(1) batch size. We provide consequences of our results for mean estimation and linear regression. Finally, we provide empirical corroboration of our results and algorithms via synthetic experiments for mean estimation and linear regression. 
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  7. We introduce the problem of domain adaptation under Open Set Label Shift (OSLS) where the label distribution can change arbitrarily and a new class may arrive during deployment, but the class-conditional distributions p(x|y) are domain-invariant. OSLS subsumes domain adaptation under label shift and Positive-Unlabeled (PU) learning. The learner's goals here are two-fold: (a) estimate the target label distribution, including the novel class; and (b) learn a target classifier. First, we establish necessary and sufficient conditions for identifying these quantities. Second, motivated by advances in label shift and PU learning, we propose practical methods for both tasks that leverage black-box predictors. Unlike typical Open Set Domain Adaptation (OSDA) problems, which tend to be ill-posed and amenable only to heuristics, OSLS offers a well-posed problem amenable to more principled machinery. Experiments across numerous semi-synthetic benchmarks on vision, language, and medical datasets demonstrate that our methods consistently outperform OSDA baselines, achieving 10--25% improvements in target domain accuracy. Finally, we analyze the proposed methods, establishing finite-sample convergence to the true label marginal and convergence to optimal classifier for linear models in a Gaussian setup. 
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