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Prior elicitation: Interactive spreadsheet graphics with sliders can be fun, and informative

  • Author(s): Jones, G
  • Johnson, WO
  • et al.

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There are several approaches to setting priors in Bayesian data analysis. Some attempt to minimize the impact of the prior on the posterior, allowing the data to "speak for themselves," or to provide Bayesian inferences that have good frequentist properties. In contrast, this note focuses on priors where scientific knowledge is used, possibly partially informative. There are many articles on the use of such subjective information. We focus on using standard software for eliciting priors from subject-matter specialists, in the form of models such as the binomial, Poisson, and normal. Our approach uses a common spreadsheet package with the facility to display dynamic pictures of prior distributions as the user toggles scroll bars or "sliders" that manipulate parameters of particular distributions. This allows interactive exploration of the shape of a probability distribution. We have found this a useful tool when eliciting priors for Bayesian data analysis. We present examples to illustrate the scope and flexibility of the method. Supplementary materials for this article are available online. © 2014 American Statistical Association.

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