As an example, assume that I have data $\mathbf{X}$, unobserved variables $\mathbf{Z}$ and model parameters $\pmb{\alpha}$, $\pmb{\beta}$. I am omitting the mentioning of any variational parameters. The variational distribution $q$ is over $\mathbf{Z}$, $\pmb{\alpha}$, and $\pmb{\beta}$. Also, let's say that the distribution over the latent variables contains an intractable normalization constant $\Omega(\pmb{\beta})$: \begin{align} p(\mathbf{Z} | \pmb{\beta}) = \frac{1}{\Omega(\pmb{\beta})}f(\mathbf{Z})\hat{p}(\mathbf{Z}|\pmb{\beta}) \end{align}

I now want to compute the ELBO: \begin{align} \text{ELBO}(q) &= \text{E}_q[\log p(\mathbf{X}, \mathbf{Z}, \pmb{\alpha}, \pmb{\beta})] - \text{E}_q[\log q(\mathbf{Z}, \pmb{\alpha}, \pmb{\beta})] \\ &= \text{E}_q[\log p(\mathbf{X}| \mathbf{Z}, \pmb{\alpha})] + \color{red}{\text{E}_q[\log p(\mathbf{Z}| \pmb{\beta})]} + \text{E}_q[\log p(\pmb{\alpha})] + \text{E}_q[\log p(\pmb{\beta})] - \text{E}_q[\log q(\mathbf{Z}, \pmb{\alpha}, \pmb{\beta})] \end{align}

My problem is with the term in red. I can try to decompose it as: \begin{align} \color{red}{\text{E}_q[\log p(\mathbf{Z}| \pmb{\beta})]} &= \text{E}_q[\log f(\mathbf{Z})] + \text{E}_q[\log \hat{p}(\mathbf{Z}| \pmb{\beta})] - \text{E}_q[\log \Omega(\pmb{\beta})] \end{align}

But how can I deal with $\text{E}_q[\log \Omega(\pmb{\beta})]$? I am using the ELBO as a termination criterion for variational Bayes. Since the ELBO is a lower bound on the evidence and I can assume $\Omega(\pmb{\beta}) > 0 \text{, }\forall \pmb{\beta}$, since it's a normalization constant, I am thinking of simply dropping this term. Any thoughts?

  • $\begingroup$ You're evaluating $\log\Omega(\beta)$, which may sometimes be negative. Do you have a specific (unnormalized) distribution $P(Z|\beta)$ that you're working with? I'm not sure there is a general solution to this type of problem, but there likely exist techniques for particular instances of it. $\endgroup$
    – Thoth
    Sep 10, 2020 at 1:13

1 Answer 1


So I think you may need to clarify some of your formulae.

If $\pmb\alpha$ and $\pmb\beta$ are parameters, then they shouldn't have probability distributions associated with them.

If $\pmb\beta$ is in fact a parameter, then you simply have,


  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the suggestion. I consequently updated the question description to emphasize that the variational distribution q is over $\mathbf{Z}$, $\pmb{\alpha}$, and $\pmb{\beta}$. $\endgroup$
    – JKB
    Sep 9, 2020 at 18:05

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