User models in Sherpa

I was recently working on a way to characterize the draws from a MCMC chain - in this case generated with pyBLoCXS but that's only relevant here because we are interested in Poisson-distributed data, hence the Gamma function - and came up with a simple user model for Sherpa. I thought it would be make a good example case, and decided to include an example of using the "low-level" API of Sherpa to fit data.

For this example I'm writing everything in an IPython notebook, and the easiest way to do that is to use the binary form of the standalone Sherpa release, using Anaconda Python:

% conda create -n sherpa_usermodel -c sherpa python=3.5 sherpa astropy matplotlib scipy ipython-notebook
% source activate sherpa_usermodel
% git clone
% cd sherpa-standalone-notebooks
% jupyter notebook

The code will also run if you built the code directly from or if you use the Sherpa provided with CIAO - although in the latter case you would use ChIPS rather than matplotlib for plotting and would not have access to scipy.stats for the simulation (try numpy.random.gamma instead).

Follow ups

I have written a follow-up to this, available at an integrated user model. This was written on May 4 2015.

I then had a brain wave and decided to talk about plotting in Sherpa when using the low-level API. This was written on May 5 2015.

I have updated the notebook for the Sherpa 4.8.2 release in September 2016; there are no changes to the notebook, but you can now use Python 3.5 as well as 2.7. Actually, there's one minor change to the notebook, but that is due to a change in the IPython/Jupyter code rather than Sherpa: it is no longer necessary to say

import logging
logging.getLogger('sherpa').propagate = False

to stop seeing double messages from Sherpa.

Author and disclaimer

This was written by Douglas Burke on May 26 2015. This notebook, and others that may be of interest, can be found on GitHub at

The information in this document is placed into the Publc Domain. It is not an official product of the Chandra X-ray Center, and I make no guarantee that it is not without bugs or embarassing typos. Please contact me via the GitHub repository or on Twitter - at @doug_burke - if you have any questions.

Last run

When was this notebook last run?

In [1]:
import datetime"%Y-%m-%d %H:%M")
'2016-09-26 19:18'

Setting up

In [2]:
import scipy.stats
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import numpy as np
In [3]:
%matplotlib inline

To make my testing easier, I fix the random seed. It's the same value as used by Jake's AstroML book, but you may want to use a different value yourself ;-)

In [4]:

Simulating some data

For this example, I am going to simulate values from a Gamma distribution using scipy.stats.gamma. Following the Wikipedia page I use the names k and theta for the parameters of the distribution; fortunately they map onto the a and scale values used by scipy.stats.gamma.

The mean of the distribution is just k * theta, so 2.86 here:

In [5]:
k_orig = 1.1
theta_orig = 2.6
ysim = scipy.stats.gamma.rvs(a=k_orig, scale=theta_orig, size=1000)

Let's have a quick look at the data:

In [6]:
[<matplotlib.lines.Line2D at 0x7f13e6d3b518>]
In [7]:
(array([ 593.,  238.,  102.,   40.,   18.,    5.,    2.,    1.,    0.,    1.]),
 array([  8.86762636e-03,   2.62925028e+00,   5.24963293e+00,
          7.87001558e+00,   1.04903982e+01,   1.31107809e+01,
          1.57311635e+01,   1.83515462e+01,   2.09719288e+01,
          2.35923115e+01,   2.62126941e+01]),
 <a list of 10 Patch objects>)

For the work I was doing, I was interested in the Cunulative Distribution Function, so let's start by creating this for the data (ysim):

In [8]:
xcdf = ysim.copy()
ycdf = np.arange(1, xcdf.size+1) * 1.0 / xcdf.size

plt.plot(xcdf, ycdf)
<matplotlib.text.Text at 0x7f13b7bc6748>

My aim is to fit this data, so I need a functional form for the CDF of a Gamma distribution. Fortunately Sherpa provides the igam routine which calculates what we need, so I can write the following (I could have also used scipy.stats routines, but I wanted this to be usable from Sherpa in CIAO):

In [9]:
import sherpa.utils
In [10]:
def calc_gamma_cdf(x, k, theta):
    """Return the CDF of a gamma distribution.

    The cumulative distribution function (CDF) of the gamma
    distribution is defined in [1]_ as::

       cdf(x;k,theta) = incomplete_gamma(k, x/theta)

    x : array
       The values at which to evaluate the CDF.
    k : number
       The shape parameter, which must be greater than 0.
    theta : number
       The scale parameter.

    cdf : array
       The CDF evaluated at each element of x.

    The mean of the distribution is given by ``k * theta``,
    and the rate is ``1 / theta``.

    .. [1]


    # Unfortunately igam does not accept a Numpy array as the
    # second argument, so need to map over the input array.
    tval = theta * 1.0
    kval = k * 1.0
    x = np.asarray(x)
    out = np.zeros_like(x)
    for i,xi in enumerate(x):
        # igam is the "regularized" incomplete gamma (lower)
        # form, so already has the normalization by gamma(a)
        # included.
        out[i] = sherpa.utils.igam(kval, xi/tval)

    return out

I can use this to plot the actual distribution on the simulated one:

In [11]:
plt.plot(xcdf, ycdf)
plt.plot(xcdf, calc_gamma_cdf(xcdf, k_orig, theta_orig))
[<matplotlib.lines.Line2D at 0x7f13b794d400>]

The Quantile-Quantile plot also looks good (as it should here ;-):

In [12]:
plt.plot(ycdf, calc_gamma_cdf(xcdf,k_orig,theta_orig))
plt.plot([0,1],[0,1], 'k--')
plt.title('Q-Q plot')
<matplotlib.text.Text at 0x7f13b73a46d8>

Using calc_gamma_cdf I can now create a Sherpa model that can be used to fit the CDF data. Rather than use the load_user_model function, I have decided to use a class-based approach. The advantage is that this model then behaves in the same manner as existing Sherpa models - so that you can create multiple instances of it directly - at the expense of a little-more set-up work.

To do this, I need to import the Sherpa sherpa.models.model module. In this case I am being explicit about the module names, to make it easier to see where symbols are defined, but normally I would say something like

from sherpa.models import model
In [13]:
import sherpa.models.model

With this, I can create the GammaCDF class. The model has two parameters, which I name k and theta, and set initial parameters and limits (the limit is inclusive, which is not ideal here because both should be > 0 rather than >= 0, but let's see how this works). The important parts are __init__, which sets everything up, and calc which is used to evaluate the model at a set of points. For this example I am going to assume that if it is used with an "integrated" 1D data set - that is, a data set where the signal is integrated between bin limits, rather than just a value at a point - then the code should just use the mid-point of the bin. The modelCacher1d function decorator tells the system that the results of the model can be cached when all the parameter values are frozen (e.g. during a fit).

In "production" code, I'd include checks to make sure it's not used with a 2D data set!

In [14]:
class GammaCDF(sherpa.models.model.ArithmeticModel):
    """A Gamma CDF.

    The cumulative distribution function (CDF) for the Gamma
    distribution, as defined by [1]_, is::

       cdf(x;k,theta) = incomplete_gamma(k, x/theta)

    The model parameters are:

       The shape parameter, which must be greater than 0.

       The scale parameter.

    The mean of the distribution is given by ``k * theta``,
    and the rate is ``1 / theta``.

    .. [1]


    def __init__(self, name='gammacdf'):
        # It would be nice to force > 0 rather than >=0.
        # Perhaps should just use a small value, e.g. 
        # sherpa.models.parameter.tinyval?
        self.k = sherpa.models.model.Parameter(name, 'k', 5, min=0, hard_min=0)
        self.theta = sherpa.models.model.Parameter(name, 'theta', 2, min=0, hard_min=0)

        sherpa.models.model.ArithmeticModel.__init__(self, name, (self.k, self.theta))

    def calc(self, pars, x, *args, **kwargs):
        (k, theta) = pars
        if len(args) == 1:
            x = (x + args[0]) / 2.0

        return calc_gamma_cdf(x, k, theta)

This model can be used to fit the data. I'll show this two ways

  1. using the low-level API, where data management is not automatic

  2. using the high-level UI which most users of Sherpa are used to.

Managing the data directly

The UI that is explained in the CXC Sherpa documentation deals with data management and state. However, this can be handled directly by dropping down to the individual models and - for some cases, such as this one - is very easy to do. Let's start with importing the symbols I need (and to make it look easy, I'm not going to use the fully-qualified name approach I've used so far):

In [15]:
from import Data1D
from sherpa.stats import LeastSq
from sherpa.optmethods import LevMar
from import Fit

For this example - which is a 1D un-binned data set - we just need a name, and the independent and dependent data arrays. The name is only used to label the results in output structures, so here I just use the label cdf.

In [16]:
d = Data1D('cdf', xcdf, ycdf)

The model to be fit is - in this case - just a single component, the newly-created GammaCDF model, so I need an instance (the name need not be the same as the variable name, but it makes tracking things a bit easier!):

In [17]:
cdf = GammaCDF('cdf')

With these, I can now create a Fit object, selecting the statistic - I use the least-squared version (LeastSq) since I have no errors - and the optimiser, for which I use the Levenberg-Marquardt method (as provided by the LevMar class):

In [18]:
f = Fit(d, cdf, LeastSq(), LevMar())

The fit can then be "run" and the output stored away. For this case the optimiser converged.

In [19]:
res =

The output of the fit method returns a lot if useful information, including the best-fit parameter values:

In [20]:
datasets       = None
itermethodname = none
methodname     = levmar
statname       = leastsq
succeeded      = True
parnames       = ('cdf.k', 'cdf.theta')
parvals        = (1.1022133409516357, 2.6102738001113779)
statval        = 0.05979008126016822
istatval       = 230.64654731128954
dstatval       = 230.58675723
numpoints      = 1000
dof            = 998
qval           = None
rstat          = None
message        = successful termination
nfev           = 36

However, we can also access these values directly from the model:

In [21]:
   Param        Type          Value          Min          Max      Units
   -----        ----          -----          ---          ---      -----
   cdf.k        thawed      1.10221            0  3.40282e+38           
   cdf.theta    thawed      2.61027            0  3.40282e+38           

and compare them to the input values:

In [22]:
print(cdf.k.val, cdf.theta.val)
print(k_orig, theta_orig)
1.10221334095 2.61027380011
1.1 2.6

One down side to the low-level API is that plots have to be manually created, but it's quite easy to create a residual (i.e. fit - data) plot for the CDF (after writing this section I added a new notebook, Plotting using the "low-level" interface, which shows how you can use the Sherpa plotting infrastructure to make these plots):

In [23]:
plt.plot(xcdf, ycdf - cdf(xcdf))
plt.ylabel('$\Delta$ CDF')
<matplotlib.text.Text at 0x7f13b61cbd68>

The QQ plot looks good, as might be expected from the residuals:

In [24]:
plt.plot(ycdf, cdf(xcdf))
plt.plot([0,1], [0,1], 'k--')
plt.title('QQ plot')
<matplotlib.text.Text at 0x7f13b6169278>

Letting Sherpa do all the work

The high-level API of Sherpa manages data and settings for users. In the following I'm going to use the version provided by the sherpa.ui module, but the "Astronomy-specific" module sherpa.astro.ui can also be used.

In [25]:
import sherpa.ui

The model needs to be added to Sherpa using add_model:

In [26]:

Let's select the least-square statistic, by name:

In [27]:

Rather than create a Data1D object, here I use the default data set - which is labelled 1:

In [28]:
sherpa.ui.load_arrays(1, xcdf, ycdf)

The default behavior in plots is to display error bars, even when using a statistic like leastsq, so I change this behavior before displaying the data (although, even with this setting, the code still complains to you, which is something I need to send a bug report about):

In [29]:
pprefs = sherpa.ui.get_data_plot_prefs()
pprefs['yerrorbars'] = False
WARNING: The displayed errorbars have been supplied with the data or calculated using chi2xspecvar; the errors are not used in fits with leastsq

The source model, used to describe the data, is set by set_source. Since add_model was used, I can create an instance of the GammaCDF model using the syntax modelname.cptname, where modelname is in lower case. To allow comparison with the eariler fit, I name the component cpt2:

In [30]:
In [31]:
   Param        Type          Value          Min          Max      Units
   -----        ----          -----          ---          ---      -----
   cdf2.k       thawed            5            0  3.40282e+38           
   cdf2.theta   thawed            2            0  3.40282e+38           

The defailt optimiser is LevMar, so I do not need to set it - which would have been the following call


Instead I can just go straight to fitting the data:

In [32]:
Dataset               = 1
Method                = levmar
Statistic             = leastsq
Initial fit statistic = 230.647
Final fit statistic   = 0.0597901 at function evaluation 36
Data points           = 1000
Degrees of freedom    = 998
Change in statistic   = 230.587
   cdf2.k         1.10221     
   cdf2.theta     2.61027     

and view the results:

In [33]:
WARNING: The displayed errorbars have been supplied with the data or calculated using chi2xspecvar; the errors are not used in fits with leastsq

Unfortunately it's not that obvious what is going on here, so let's look at the residual plot:

In [34]:
WARNING: The displayed errorbars have been supplied with the data or calculated using chi2xspecvar; the errors are not used in fits with leastsq

Annoyingly, error bars are included (they are estimated from the dependent axis values assuming Gaussian statistics, so are completely wrong in this case), and I do not know how to turn them off, so I create the plot manually (I could use the same technique as earlier, and calculate the residuals, but the UI includes a routine to return the plotted data):

In [35]:
resid = sherpa.ui.get_resid_plot()
WARNING: The displayed errorbars have been supplied with the data or calculated using chi2xspecvar; the errors are not used in fits with leastsq

and this can be used to create the residual plot, which should look familiar:

In [36]:
plt.plot(resid.x, resid.y)
plt.ylabel('$\Delta$ (CDF)')
<matplotlib.text.Text at 0x7f13b5f2dac8>

The results of the two fits should be the same (since the data, model, and starting points are the same). Are they?

In [37]:
   Param        Type          Value          Min          Max      Units
   -----        ----          -----          ---          ---      -----
   cdf.k        thawed      1.10221            0  3.40282e+38           
   cdf.theta    thawed      2.61027            0  3.40282e+38           
   Param        Type          Value          Min          Max      Units
   -----        ----          -----          ---          ---      -----
   cdf2.k       thawed      1.10221            0  3.40282e+38           
   cdf2.theta   thawed      2.61027            0  3.40282e+38           

Phew. So, I hope you enjoyed this whistle-stop tour through Sherpa user models, the add_model command, and direct access to the low-level API provided by Sherpa.

A follow up (May 4th and 5th, 2015)

I have written a follow-up to this, available at an integrated user model, and then a notebook about plotting in Sherpa when using the low-level API.