A Transformational Characterization of Markov Equivalence for Directed Maximal Ancestral Graphs

The conditional independence relations present in a data set usually admit multiple causal explanations — typically represented by directed graphs — which are Markov equivalent in that they entail the same conditional independence relations among the observed variables. Markov equivalence between directed acyclic graphs (DAGs) has been characterized in various ways, each of which has been found useful for certain purposes. In particular, Chickering’s transformational characterization is useful in deriving properties shared by Markov equivalent DAGs, and, with certain generalization, is needed to justify a search procedure over Markov equivalence classes, known as the GES algorithm. Markov equivalence between DAGs with latent variables has also been characterized, in the spirit of Verma and Pearl (1990), via maximal ancestral graphs (MAGs). The latter can represent the observable conditional independence relations as well as some causal features of DAG models with latent variables. However, no characterization of Markov equivalent MAGs is yet available that is analogous to the transformational characterization for Markov equivalent DAGs. The main contribution of the current paper is to establish such a characterization for directed MAGs, which we expect will have similar uses as Chickering’s characterization does for DAGs.
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