pm.Potential() much needed explanation for newbie


Hi all

I am relatively new in this pymc3 Bayesian space. I’ve been spending many many hours cracking what pm.Potential() actually do.

I have tried this code, from my understanding so far, the posterior plot should be very very similar, but apparently not

N = 1000
prob = 0.1
y_obs = np.random.binomial(n = N, p = prob)

with pm.Model() as model_exp2:
    # model 1, the usual way
    # prior 
    beta_p_M1 = pm.Beta('beta_p_M1', alpha=1, beta=1)
    # model 1, the regular way
    M1 = pm.Binomial('M1', p = beta_p_M1, n = N, observed = y_obs)

    # model 2, with pm.potential
    # prior
    beta_p_M2 = pm.Beta('beta_p_M2', alpha=1, beta=1)
    # model 2, using pm.Potential
    M2 = pm.Potential("M2 ", pm.Binomial.dist(n =1000, p = 0.1).logp(beta_p_M2)) 

    trace = pm.sample(3000, chains=2, njobs = 2)
    burned_trace = trace[500:]


Explanation on what I do:
on model 1,
the simplest parameter estimation with uninformative prior (beta 1,1)

on model 2,
from what my understanding, the most common syntax for pm.potential is pm.Potential(‘Any Name’, likelihood_function).
My likelihood function defined as pm.Binomial.dist(n=1000, p = 0.1).logp(beta_p_M2)
keep in mind that pm.Binomial.dist(n=1000, p = 0.1) is the same exact with variable y_obs

pm.Binomial.dist(n=1000, p = 0.1).logp(beta_p_M2) means at that binomial distribution, evaluate it’s probability at value = beta_p_M2(<< which I believe is the prior). And finally take the log of that probability.

in my head, M1 and M2 should give me very identical results, but it doesn’t.

Could someone enlight me?

Thank you


To make the two model identical, you should do:

M2 = pm.Potential("M2 ", pm.Binomial.dist(p = beta_p_M1, n = N).logp(y_obs)) 

The logp function is the function of the observed, conditioned on the parameters.


Hi @junpenglao

Thank you so much for your quick reply.
If I understand correctly based on your statement:
pm.Binomial.dist(p = beta_p_M1, n = N).logp(y_obs))

pm.Binomial.dist(p = beta_p_M1, n = N) representing the prior
logp(y_obs) representing the observed

combining those together with pm.Potential() will construct the likelihood function

Although I have confirmed your suggestion just now by running it on my iPython notebook, I am still confused.

So I have been studying from this book from CamDavidsonPilon:

where he showed a case study on gameshow “The Price is Right”.
In his code, he described:

  • Historical Price as ‘prior’ belief, Normal(35000, 7500)
  • Observed/guessing Price (SnowBlower Normal(3000, 500) + Toronto Normal (12000, 3000)) as the ‘observed’ value

Based on your explanation, the logp() should contains the ‘observed’ value. But CamDavidsonPilon put the ‘prior’ into the logp() function

Below is the screenshot of his model,

Any idea about this?

Thank you very much!


Seems that example is not very typical - maybe that’s the reason he use potential.

I would suggest you to have a look at my pyberlin talk: it should explain quite clear the idea


Will do!
Thanks, Junpenglao :smile: