Solved – Calculating posterior of difference given posterior of two means

I am using R and MCMCpack to do a Bayesian analysis of some data that I have. I have generated posterior distributions (postDist) on the means of some parameters (y1,y2,y3) using MCMCregress (postDist <- MCMCRegress( x ~ y + z ,...)).

Now, I would like to take those posterior distributions on the means and generate a posterior distribution on the difference between the means. Is that a reasonable thing to do in a Bayesian analysis, and if so, how do you do it (either in theory or in R)?

First, the method and theory, in brief: The goal is to approximate the target distribution $p(theta|D)$ where $theta$ is a vector parameter and $D$ is observed data, given some prior distribution $p(theta)$. At each stage of the MCMC chain, the sampling algorithm proposes a new parameter vector $theta$. (This process varies depending on the flavor of algorithm, and the proposal distribution.) Given a proposed $theta$, it then computes the product $p(D|theta_{proposed})p(theta_{proposed})$, which by Bayes rule is proportional to the posterior distribution $p(theta|D)$. It accepts the proposal with probability $max(frac{p(theta_{proposed})}{p(theta_{current})},1)$. If a number of requirements are met, this chain will produce a representative sample from the posterior distribution. (In brief, it requires a proposal process that adequately covers the posterior distribution, proper burn-in, and convergence.)

If those requirements are met, one can view the MCMC sample as an approximation to the posterior. Each individual sample value is one sampled vector of values for $theta$; likewise, differencing two sampled parameters over the entire sample produces an approximated distribution of the difference between the two parameters. (I'm not familiar with MCMCPack, but I gather from your code and comment that postDist[,"y2"] and postDist[,"y2"] are vectors of samples from the posterior, so this should work.) This is one benefit of MCMC methods: If the parameters covary, then solving for their sum or difference analytically depends on knowing their joint distribution.

By the by, I began learning Bayesian methods with Kruschke's Doing Bayesian Data Analysis, and I highly recommend his chapters explaining MCMC algorithms. It's a very approachable, intuitive treatment.

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