Demystifying Bayesian Analysis in Julia Turing: A Whimsical Journey Through Advanced Techniques and Practical Examples

Abhijit Gupta
6 min readApr 9


Hey there, fellow data enthusiasts! Have you ever found yourself drowning in the sea of probability distributions and wished for a lifebuoy? Well, fear not, for today we’re diving into the marvelous world of Bayesian analysis and sampling techniques using Julia Turing – a lifesaver in the vast ocean of statistics! Prepare yourself for a thrilling and fun-filled voyage as we explore the depths of Bayesian inference with our trusty sidekick, Julia Turing. So, grab a cup of coffee, adjust your glasses (if you wear them), and let’s embark on this Bayesian adventure together!

A Brief Introduction to Bayesian Wonderland

Before we start, let’s refresh our memories with a quick rundown of what Bayesian analysis is all about. You might recall Reverend Thomas Bayes, who, back in the 18th century, was on a divine mission to help us make sense of the world through probabilities. His brilliant Bayesian theorem has since become the foundation for today’s advanced Bayesian analysis.

In a nutshell, Bayesian analysis helps us update our beliefs (or “priors”) in light of new evidence (the “likelihood”) to arrive at a more refined understanding (the “posterior”). It’s like updating your dating preferences after a few disastrous encounters, but with math!

Welcoming Our Hero – Julia Turing

Now that we’re all on the same Bayesian page, let’s welcome our hero of the day, Julia Turing! This fantastic library combines the best of two worlds: the elegance of the Julia programming language and the powerful Turing probabilistic programming system. With Julia Turing by our side, we’re ready to conquer any Bayesian challenge that comes our way!

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the theory behind Julia Turing’s awesomeness. Julia is a high-level, high-performance, dynamic programming language for technical computing, and Turing is a probabilistic programming library that allows you to define probabilistic models and perform Bayesian inference on them. Together, they form the Julia Turing package, which boasts impressive performance and flexibility.

Probabilistic programming is a paradigm that combines probabilistic models with programming languages. It allows you to write models that describe how data is generated using probability distributions, making it an incredibly powerful tool for Bayesian analysis. Turing, the probabilistic programming system at the heart of Julia Turing, allows you to define models using the familiar syntax of the Julia language and makes Bayesian inference a breeze.

Julia Turing’s core features include:

  1. Flexibility: Julia Turing allows you to define a wide range of probabilistic models, from simple linear regressions to complex hierarchical models, and even state-space models and Gaussian processes.
  2. Sampling Algorithms: It offers an extensive collection of sampling algorithms, including Metropolis-Hastings, Hamiltonian Monte Carlo, Gibbs sampling, and more. You can mix and match these algorithms to suit your specific problem, giving you the power to customize your Bayesian inference process.
  3. Performance: Julia Turing is designed for speed. Thanks to Julia’s Just-In-Time (JIT) compilation and Turing’s efficient implementation, you can run complex models and sampling algorithms quickly, even on large datasets.
  4. Interoperability: Julia Turing integrates seamlessly with other Julia packages, allowing you to leverage the full power of the Julia ecosystem for data manipulation, visualization, and more.

Advanced Bayesian Techniques Unveiled

Hold on to your hats, because things are about to get Bayesian-tastic! We’ll explore some advanced techniques like Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC), Hamiltonian Monte Carlo (HMC), and Gibbs sampling, which help us get up close and personal with our beloved posterior distributions.

Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC): MCMC is a class of algorithms used to sample from a probability distribution, particularly when direct sampling is difficult or impossible. It generates a sequence of samples (forming a Markov chain) where each sample depends only on the previous one. The chain is constructed in such a way that, after a sufficient number of iterations (called the “burn-in” period), the samples are approximately drawn from the target distribution. MCMC methods, such as the Metropolis-Hastings algorithm, are widely used in Bayesian statistics to estimate the posterior distributions of model parameters.

Hamiltonian Monte Carlo (HMC): HMC is a type of MCMC algorithm that leverages the geometry of the target distribution to improve the efficiency of the sampling process. It introduces an auxiliary variable, called the momentum, which is derived from the gradient of the target distribution’s log density. The algorithm simulates the dynamics of a particle moving in a potential energy landscape defined by the target distribution. HMC uses Hamiltonian mechanics to propose new samples, which are then accepted or rejected based on the Metropolis-Hastings criterion. The key advantage of HMC over other MCMC methods is that it can efficiently explore complex, high-dimensional distributions with strong correlations between variables.

Gibbs sampling: Gibbs sampling is another MCMC algorithm that simplifies the sampling process by breaking it down into a series of conditional sampling steps. In each step, one variable is sampled from its full conditional distribution, while keeping the other variables fixed. This process is repeated, cycling through all the variables, until the chain converges to the target distribution. Gibbs sampling is particularly useful when the full conditional distributions are easy to sample from and when dealing with conditionally conjugate models (where the prior and posterior distributions are of the same family). One of the main benefits of Gibbs sampling is that it eliminates the need for tuning parameters, such as step sizes, which are often required in other MCMC methods like Metropolis-Hastings and HMC.

Let’s start with the basics: defining a Bayesian model in Julia Turing. We’ll create a simple model to estimate the mean and standard deviation of pet cuteness scores.

using Turing, MCMCChains

@model function pet_cuteness_model(cuteness_scores)
μ ~ Normal(0, 100)
σ ~ truncated(Normal(0, 100), 0, Inf)

for score in cuteness_scores
score ~ Normal(μ, σ)

cuteness_scores = [8, 9, 6, 7, 9, 8, 6, 7, 8, 9]

MCMC is a widely-used sampling method for obtaining samples from complex probability distributions (like our posteriors).

Now, let’s use MCMC to sample from the posterior distribution. We’ll start with the classic Metropolis-Hastings algorithm.

chain_mh = sample(pet_cuteness_model(cuteness_scores), MH(), 10_000)

Time for some HMC magic! Julia Turing allows us to switch sampling algorithms with minimal effort. Let’s see the Hamiltonian Monte Carlo (HMC) in action.

chain_hmc = sample(pet_cuteness_model(cuteness_scores), HMC(0.01, 10), 10_000)

And finally, let’s try the Gibbs sampling, which is particularly useful when dealing with conditionally conjugate models.

chain_gibbs = sample(pet_cuteness_model(cuteness_scores), Gibbs(HMC(0.01, 10, :μ), HMC(0.01, 10, :σ)), 10_000)

And guess what? Julia Turing makes it all seem like a walk in the park! With its intuitive syntax and efficient performance, it’s like having a fun Bayesian playground where you can frolic around and test out various sampling techniques with ease.

A Real-Life Bayesian Adventure

To demonstrate Julia Turing’s prowess, we’ll dive into a real-life example that involves predicting the winner of the “Most Adorable Pet” contest. We’ll put our Bayesian analysis skills to the test, using a treasure trove of cute pet photos, owner testimonials, and an array of treats to fuel our analysis.

Assuming we have collected cuteness scores for several pets, we can now analyze the results and predict the winner using our Bayesian model.

# Concatenate the chains and remove the warmup samples
chains = chain_mh + chain_hmc + chain_gibbs
chains = chains[1000:end, :, :]

# Compute the posterior mean and standard deviation
μ_posterior_mean = mean(chains[:μ])
σ_posterior_mean = mean(chains[:σ])

# Predict the cuteness score of a new pet
new_pet_score = rand(Normal(μ_posterior_mean, σ_posterior_mean))

With Julia Turing’s handy tools, we’ll tackle this Bayesian problem head-on and emerge victorious, having predicted the most adorable pet with statistical rigor!


And there you have it, folks! Our exhilarating journey through advanced Bayesian analysis and sampling techniques in Julia Turing has come to an end. With the newfound knowledge you’ve acquired today, you’re well-equipped to face any Bayesian challenge and impress your friends with your statistical savviness.

As you’ve seen, Julia Turing makes it incredibly easy to define probabilistic models, experiment with different sampling algorithms, and analyze the results. We’ve explored the Metropolis-Hastings, Hamiltonian Monte Carlo, and Gibbs sampling techniques, and applied them to a real-life example of predicting the winner of the “Most Adorable Pet” contest.

So, go forth, dear reader, and unleash the power of Julia Turing in your data-driven endeavors. Remember, as the great Reverend Bayes once said (probably), “With great Bayesian power comes great responsibility!” Happy Bayesian-ing!