Probability Theory and Related Fields

, Volume 162, Issue 3–4, pp 431–461 | Cite as

Reconstruction and estimation in the planted partition model

  • Elchanan Mossel
  • Joe NeemanEmail author
  • Allan Sly


The planted partition model (also known as the stochastic blockmodel) is a classical cluster-exhibiting random graph model that has been extensively studied in statistics, physics, and computer science. In its simplest form, the planted partition model is a model for random graphs on \(n\) nodes with two equal-sized clusters, with an between-class edge probability of \(q\) and a within-class edge probability of \(p\). Although most of the literature on this model has focused on the case of increasing degrees (ie. \(pn, qn \rightarrow \infty \) as \(n \rightarrow \infty \)), the sparse case \(p, q = O(1/n)\) is interesting both from a mathematical and an applied point of view. A striking conjecture of Decelle, Krzkala, Moore and Zdeborová based on deep, non-rigorous ideas from statistical physics gave a precise prediction for the algorithmic threshold of clustering in the sparse planted partition model. In particular, if \(p = a/n\) and \(q = b/n\), then Decelle et al. conjectured that it is possible to cluster in a way correlated with the true partition if \((a - b)^2 > 2(a + b)\), and impossible if \((a - b)^2 < 2(a + b)\). By comparison, the best-known rigorous result is that of Coja-Oghlan, who showed that clustering is possible if \((a - b)^2 > C (a + b)\) for some sufficiently large \(C\). We prove half of their prediction, showing that it is indeed impossible to cluster if \((a - b)^2 < 2(a + b)\). Furthermore we show that it is impossible even to estimate the model parameters from the graph when \((a - b)^2 < 2(a + b)\); on the other hand, we provide a simple and efficient algorithm for estimating \(a\) and \(b\) when \((a - b)^2 > 2(a + b)\). Following Decelle et al, our work establishes a rigorous connection between the clustering problem, spin-glass models on the Bethe lattice and the so called reconstruction problem. This connection points to fascinating applications and open problems.

Mathematics Subject Classification (2010)

Primary 05C80 Secondary 60J85 90B15 91D30 



A.S. would like to thank Christian Borgs for suggesting the problem and Lenka Zdeborová for useful discussions. Part of this work was done while A.S. was at Microsoft Research, Redmond. The authors would also like to thank Lenka Zdeborová for comments on a draft of this work, and the two anonymous reviewers for further helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of StatisticsUC BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Department of Computer ScienceUC BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Department of MathematicsAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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