Debugging Alignment Errors

Occassionally STAN will fail to align the provided data. You might receive one such error:

2019-05-05 13:14:57,744 [MainThread  ] [INFO ]  Running STAN with command: fit_RT3e optimize iter=20000 algorithm=lbfgs init_alpha=0.001 tol_obj=1e-12 tol_rel_obj=10000 tol_grad=1e-08 tol_rel_grad=10000000 tol_param=1e-08 history_size=5 init=path/to/stan_init_list.json data file=path/to/stan_input.json output file=path/to/stan_output.csv

...

Initial log joint probability = -145484
Iter      log prob        ||dx||      ||grad||       alpha      alpha0  # evals  Notes
99      -79470.2     0.0116717   1.03451e+06           1           1      117
Iter      log prob        ||dx||      ||grad||       alpha      alpha0  # evals  Notes
199      -70672.1    0.00631696        233576           1           1      220
...
899      -53134.8   0.000872197        193198      0.9749      0.9749      959
Iter      log prob        ||dx||      ||grad||       alpha      alpha0  # evals  Notes
908      -52983.6   0.000539274        283494   1.081e-12       0.001     1048  LS failed, Hessian reset
Error evaluating model log probability: Non-finite function evaluation.
Error evaluating model log probability: Non-finite function evaluation.

Optimization terminated with error:
Line search failed to achieve a sufficient decrease, no more progress can be made
2019-05-05 13:17:20,874 [MainThread  ] [INFO ]  STAN Model Finished. Run time: 143.130 seconds.
2019-05-05 13:17:20,876 [MainThread  ] [WARNI]  Stan model exited with error 70


We will continue with the last set of parameters despite this error, but if you are getting alignment errors it is worth looking into further to ensure that the alignment reached a sufficient optima. Set print_figures: true in the configuration file to generate the figures.html file, and then inspect each experiment to check whether or not the alignment performed as expected. In some cases, STAN will error out even when it hits a good optima, and so these errors can be ignored.

One potential cause for these errors is prematurely getting stuck at a local minima in the optimization space. To prevent this, reduce the number of initial value iterations (prior_iters in the config file), or artificially induce error in the initial values by randomly distorting retention times (rt_distortion in the config file).

Some times errors can be caused by STAN starting in a bad place in the optimization space. If you think this is the problem, simply increase stan_attempts and hope that you get a lucky seed one attempt.

Finally, one solution that we have found works well is to increase experiment-specific variance by including more experiments – try even including LC-MS/MS experiments with different conditions (different C18 column, different pump, run months apart, etc.). Adding more variance in this dimension increases the success rate, in our experience.

It still doesn’t work

If you’ve tried the above and still have issues, then you can run STAN standalone and interpret its debugging output. We have to run the standalone version of stan cmdstan. See this getting started document to install cmdstan.

Run your alignment normally, and in your output folder you should find the stan_input.json and stan_init_list.json files that are now generated and saved before alignment begins.

Find the model executable in dart_id/models/fit_RT3e/<os>. For Windows, for example, this file is: dart_id/models/fit_RT3e/windows/fit_RT3e.exe.

Alternatively, you can build your own executables. Clone the cmdstan repository (see above getting started link), and our DART-ID repository. Build our model by running:

cd /path/to/cmdstan
make /path/to/DART-ID/dart_id/models/fit_RT3e


Running the stand-alone alignment model

Now run our compiled model:

./fit_RT3e optimize iter=20000 save_iterations=1 init='/path/to/stan_init_list.json' data file='/path/to/stan_input.json' output file='output.csv' diagnostic_file='diagnostic.txt'


In output.csv each line of the file corresponds to an iteration, and the columns are the number of parameters. For large alignments this file can be several gigabytes big so we don’t recommend trying to open those in R or Excel. Instead extract parameters from each iteration by using the tail or sed commands:

# extract last line (parameters from last iteration, before crash)
tail -n 1 output.csv > output_last_line.csv

# extract range of lines (parameters from range of iterations)
# see: https://stackoverflow.com/q/83329
sed -n '16224,16482p;16483q' output.csv > output_16224_16482.csv


If you find a reason why our model is failing to align experiments, please contact the authors! We are actively looking to improve the robustness of our model and welcome any and all feedback.