How Bayesian inference works

Bayesian inference is a way to get sharper predictions from your data. It’s particularly useful when you don’t have as much data as you would like and want to juice every last bit of predictive strength from it.

Although it is sometimes described with reverence, Bayesian inference isn’t magic or mystical. And even though the math under the hood can get dense, the concepts behind it are completely accessible. In brief, Bayesian inference lets you draw stronger conclusions from your data by folding in what you already know about the answer.

Bayesian inference is based on the ideas of Thomas Bayes, a nonconformist Presbyterian minister in London about 300 years ago. He wrote two books, one on theology, and one on probability. His work included his now famous Bayes Theorem in raw form, which has since been applied to the problem of inference, the technical term for educated guessing. The popularity of Bayes’ ideas was aided immeasurably by another minister, Richard Price. He saw their significance, refined them and published them. It would be more accurate and historically just to call Bayes’ Theorem the Bayes-Price Rule.