TitleInvited Commentary: Lost in Estimation--Searching for Alternatives to Markov Chains to Fit Complex Bayesian Models
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsMolitor, J
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Pagination376 - 378
Date Published03/2012

Bayesian methods have seen an increase in popularity in a wide variety of scientific fields, including epidemiology. One of the main reasons for their widespread application is the power of the Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) techniques generally used to fit these models. As a result, researchers often implicitly associate Bayesian models with MCMC estimation procedures. However, Bayesian models do not always require Markov-chain-based methods for parameter estimation. This is important, as MCMC estimation methods, while generally quite powerful, are complex and computationally expensive and suffer from convergence problems related to the manner in which they generate correlated samples used to estimate probability distributions for parameters of interest. In this issue of the Journal, Cole et al. (Am J Epidemiol. 2012;175(5):368–375) present an interesting paper that discusses non-Markov-chain-based approaches to fitting Bayesian models. These methods, though limited, can overcome some of the problems associated with MCMC techniques and promise to provide simpler approaches to fitting Bayesian models. Applied researchers will find these estimation approaches intuitively appealing and will gain a deeper understanding of Bayesian models through their use. However, readers should be aware that other non-Markov-chain-based methods are currently in active development and have been widely published in other fields.