Last summer, I was at a conference having lunch with Hal Daume III when we got to talking about how "Bayesian" can be a funny and ambiguous term. It seems like the definition should be straightforward: "following the work of English mathematician Rev. Thomas Bayes," perhaps, or even "uses Bayes' theorem." But many methods bearing the reverend's name or using his theorem aren't even considered "Bayesian" by his most religious followers. Why is it that Bayesian networks, for example, aren't considered… y'know… Bayesian? As I've read more outside the fields of machine learning and natural language processing -- from psychometrics and environmental biology to hackers who dabble in data science -- I've noticed three broad uses of the term "Bayesian."

Last summer, I was at a conference having lunch with Hal Daume III when we got to talking about how "Bayesian" can be a funny and ambiguous term. It seems like the definition should be straightforward: "following the work of English mathematician Rev. Thomas Bayes," perhaps, or even "uses Bayes' theorem." But many methods bearing the reverend's name or using his theorem aren't even considered "Bayesian" by his most religious followers. Why is it that Bayesian networks, for example, aren't considered… y'know… Bayesian? As I've read more outside the fields of machine learning and natural language processing -- from psychometrics and environmental biology to hackers who dabble in data science -- I've noticed three distinct uses of the term "Bayesian."

Classification is a predictive modeling problem that involves assigning a label to a given input data sample. The problem of classification predictive modeling can be framed as calculating the conditional probability of a class label given a data sample. Bayes Theorem provides a principled way for calculating this conditional probability, although in practice requires an enormous number of samples (very large-sized dataset) and is computationally expensive. Instead, the calculation of Bayes Theorem can be simplified by making some assumptions, such as each input variable is independent of all other input variables. Although a dramatic and unrealistic assumption, this has the effect of making the calculations of the conditional probability tractable and results in an effective classification model referred to as Naive Bayes.

Because the Bayes classifier is optimal, the Bayes error is the minimum possible error that can be made. Further, the model is often described in terms of classification, e.g. the Bayes Classifier. Nevertheless, the principle applies just as well to regression: that is, predictive modeling problems where a numerical value is predicted instead of a class label. It is a theoretical model, but it is held up as an ideal that we may wish to pursue. In theory we would always like to predict qualitative responses using the Bayes classifier. But for real data, we do not know the conditional distribution of Y given X, and so computing the Bayes classifier is impossible. Therefore, the Bayes classifier serves as an unattainable gold standard against which to compare other methods.

A well-calibrated estimator for the conditional probabilities should obey this equation. Once we have derived a statistical classifier, we need to validate it on some test data. This data should be different from that used to train the classifier, otherwise skill scores will be unduly optimistic. This is known as cross-validation. The confusion matrix expresses everything about the accuracy of a discrete classifier over a given database and you can use it to compose any possible skill score. Here, we are going to cover two that are rarely seen in the literature, but are nonetheless important for reasons that will become clear.