On the Identifiability and Estimation of Causal Location-Scale Noise Models

We study the class of location-scale or heteroscedastic noise models (LSNMs), in which the effect $Y$ can be written as a function of the cause $X$ and a noise source $N$ independent of $X$, which may be scaled by a positive function $g$ over the cause, i.e., $Y = f(X) + g(X)N$. Despite the generality of the model class, we show the causal direction is identifiable up to some pathological cases. To empirically validate these theoretical findings, we propose two estimators for LSNMs: an estimator based on (non-linear) feature maps, and one based on neural networks. Both model the conditional distribution of $Y$ given $X$ as a Gaussian parameterized by its natural parameters. When the feature maps are correctly specified, we prove that our estimator is jointly concave, and a consistent estimator for the cause-effect identification task. Although the the neural network does not inherit those guarantees, it can fit functions of arbitrary complexity, and reaches state-of-the-art performance across benchmarks.

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