Using Bayesian methods for the estimation of uncertainty in complex statistical models

Donald, Margaret (2011) Using Bayesian methods for the estimation of uncertainty in complex statistical models. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


The research objectives of this thesis were to contribute to Bayesian statistical methodology by contributing to risk assessment statistical methodology, and to spatial and spatio-temporal methodology, by modelling error structures using complex hierarchical models. Specifically, I hoped to consider two applied areas, and use these applications as a springboard for developing new statistical methods as well as undertaking analyses which might give answers to particular applied questions. Thus, this thesis considers a series of models, firstly in the context of risk assessments for recycled water, and secondly in the context of water usage by crops. The research objective was to model error structures using hierarchical models in two problems, namely risk assessment analyses for wastewater, and secondly, in a four dimensional dataset, assessing differences between cropping systems over time and over three spatial dimensions. The aim was to use the simplicity and insight afforded by Bayesian networks to develop appropriate models for risk scenarios, and again to use Bayesian hierarchical models to explore the necessarily complex modelling of four dimensional agricultural data. The specific objectives of the research were to develop a method for the calculation of credible intervals for the point estimates of Bayesian networks; to develop a model structure to incorporate all the experimental uncertainty associated with various constants thereby allowing the calculation of more credible credible intervals for a risk assessment; to model a single day’s data from the agricultural dataset which satisfactorily captured the complexities of the data; to build a model for several days’ data, in order to consider how the full data might be modelled; and finally to build a model for the full four dimensional dataset and to consider the timevarying nature of the contrast of interest, having satisfactorily accounted for possible spatial and temporal autocorrelations. This work forms five papers, two of which have been published, with two submitted, and the final paper still in draft. The first two objectives were met by recasting the risk assessments as directed, acyclic graphs (DAGs). In the first case, we elicited uncertainty for the conditional probabilities needed by the Bayesian net, incorporated these into a corresponding DAG, and used Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) to find credible intervals, for all the scenarios and outcomes of interest. In the second case, we incorporated the experimental data underlying the risk assessment constants into the DAG, and also treated some of that data as needing to be modelled as an ‘errors-invariables’ problem [Fuller, 1987]. This illustrated a simple method for the incorporation of experimental error into risk assessments. In considering one day of the three-dimensional agricultural data, it became clear that geostatistical models or conditional autoregressive (CAR) models over the three dimensions were not the best way to approach the data. Instead CAR models are used with neighbours only in the same depth layer. This gave flexibility to the model, allowing both the spatially structured and non-structured variances to differ at all depths. We call this model the CAR layered model. Given the experimental design, the fixed part of the model could have been modelled as a set of means by treatment and by depth, but doing so allows little insight into how the treatment effects vary with depth. Hence, a number of essentially non-parametric approaches were taken to see the effects of depth on treatment, with the model of choice incorporating an errors-in-variables approach for depth in addition to a non-parametric smooth. The statistical contribution here was the introduction of the CAR layered model, the applied contribution the analysis of moisture over depth and estimation of the contrast of interest together with its credible intervals. These models were fitted using WinBUGS [Lunn et al., 2000]. The work in the fifth paper deals with the fact that with large datasets, the use of WinBUGS becomes more problematic because of its highly correlated term by term updating. In this work, we introduce a Gibbs sampler with block updating for the CAR layered model. The Gibbs sampler was implemented by Chris Strickland using pyMCMC [Strickland, 2010]. This framework is then used to consider five days data, and we show that moisture in the soil for all the various treatments reaches levels particular to each treatment at a depth of 200 cm and thereafter stays constant, albeit with increasing variances with depth. In an analysis across three spatial dimensions and across time, there are many interactions of time and the spatial dimensions to be considered. Hence, we chose to use a daily model and to repeat the analysis at all time points, effectively creating an interaction model of time by the daily model. Such an approach allows great flexibility. However, this approach does not allow insight into the way in which the parameter of interest varies over time. Hence, a two-stage approach was also used, with estimates from the first-stage being analysed as a set of time series. We see this spatio-temporal interaction model as being a useful approach to data measured across three spatial dimensions and time, since it does not assume additivity of the random spatial or temporal effects.

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ID Code: 47132
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Mengersen, Kerrie & Pettitt, Anthony
Keywords: Bayesian methods, complex statistical models
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Past > Schools > Mathematical Sciences
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 21 Nov 2011 23:15
Last Modified: 20 Nov 2012 14:10

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