The Bayesian method is the natural approach to inference, yet it is hidden from readers behind chapters of slow, mathematical analysis. Nevertheless, mathematical analysis is only one way to “think Bayes”. With cheap computing power, we can now afford to take an alternate route via probabilistic programming.

Cam Davidson-Pilon wrote the book Bayesian Methods for Hackers as a introduction to Bayesian inference from a computational and understanding-first, mathematics-second, point of view.

The book is available via Amazon, but you can access an online e-book for free. There’s also an associated GitHub repo.

The book explains Bayesian principles with code and visuals. For instance:

%matplotlib inline
from IPython.core.pylabtools import figsize
import numpy as np
from matplotlib import pyplot as plt
figsize(11, 9)

import scipy.stats as stats

dist = stats.beta
n_trials = [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 15, 50, 500]
data = stats.bernoulli.rvs(0.5, size=n_trials[-1])
x = np.linspace(0, 1, 100)

for k, N in enumerate(n_trials):
    sx = plt.subplot(len(n_trials)/2, 2, k+1)
    plt.xlabel("$p$, probability of heads") \
        if k in [0, len(n_trials)-1] else None
    plt.setp(sx.get_yticklabels(), visible=False)
    heads = data[:N].sum()
    y = dist.pdf(x, 1 + heads, 1 + N - heads)
    plt.plot(x, y, label="observe %d tosses,\n %d heads" % (N, heads))
    plt.fill_between(x, 0, y, color="#348ABD", alpha=0.4)
    plt.vlines(0.5, 0, 4, color="k", linestyles="--", lw=1)

    leg = plt.legend()
    leg.get_frame().set_alpha(0.4)
    plt.autoscale(tight=True)


plt.suptitle("Bayesian updating of posterior probabilities",
             y=1.02,
             fontsize=14)

plt.tight_layout()

I can only recommend you start with the online version of Bayesian Methods for Hackers, but note that the print version helps sponsor the author ánd includes some additional features:

  • Additional Chapter on Bayesian A/B testing
  • Updated examples
  • Answers to the end of chapter questions
  • Additional explanation, and rewritten sections to aid the reader.

If you’re interested in learning more about Bayesian analysis, I recommend these other books: