Causal de Finetti: On the Identification of Invariant Causal Structure in Exchangeable Data

29 Mar 2022  ·  Siyuan Guo, Viktor Tóth, Bernhard Schölkopf, Ferenc Huszár ·

Learning causal structure from observational data often assumes that we observe independent and identically distributed (i.\,i.\,d) data. The traditional approach aims to find a graphical representation that encodes the same set of conditional independence relationships as those present in the observed distribution. It is known that under i.\,i.\,d assumption, even with infinite data, there is a limit to how fine-grained a causal structure we can identify. To overcome this limitation, recent work has explored using data originating from different, related environments to learn richer causal structure. These approaches implicitly rely on the independent causal mechanisms (ICM) principle, which postulates that the mechanism giving rise to an effect given its causes and the mechanism which generates the causes do not inform or influence each other. Thus, components of the causal model can independently change from environment to environment. Despite its wide application in machine learning and causal inference, there is a lack of statistical formalization of the ICM principle and how it enables identification of richer causal structures from grouped data. Here we present new causal de Finetti theorems which offer a first statistical formalization of ICM principle and show how causal structure identification is possible from exchangeable data. Our work provides theoretical justification for a broad range of techniques leveraging multi-environment data to learn causal structure.

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