MissDAG: Causal Discovery in the Presence of Missing Data with Continuous Additive Noise Models

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Title

Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems


State-of-the-art causal discovery methods usually assume that the observational data is complete. However, the missing data problem is pervasive in many practical scenarios such as clinical trials, economics, and biology. One straightforward way to address the missing data problem is first to impute the data using off-the-shelf imputation methods and then apply existing causal discovery methods. However, such a two-step method may suffer from suboptimality, as the imputation algorithm may introduce bias for modeling the underlying data distribution. In this paper, we develop a general method, which we call MissDAG, to perform causal discovery from data with incomplete observations. Focusing mainly on the assumptions of ignorable missingness and the identifiable additive noise models (ANMs), MissDAG maximizes the expected likelihood of the visible part of observations under the expectation-maximization (EM) framework. In the E-step, in cases where computing the posterior distributions of parameters in closed-form is not feasible, Monte Carlo EM is leveraged to approximate the likelihood. In the M-step, MissDAG leverages the density transformation to model the noise distributions with simpler and specific formulations by virtue of the ANMs and uses a likelihood-based causal discovery algorithm with directed acyclic graph constraint. We demonstrate the flexibility of MissDAG for incorporating various causal discovery algorithms and its efficacy through extensive simulations and real data experiments.

Publication Date



Additives, Directed graphs, Maximum principle


IR conditions: non-described