Hydrology Corner: How to compare outputs from two models, one Bayesian and one non-Bayesian?

Zac McEachran writes:

I am a Hydrologist and Flood Forecaster at the National Weather Service in the Midwest. I use some Bayesian statistical methods in my research work on hydrological processes in small catchments.

I recently came across a project that I want to use a Bayesian analysis for, but I am not entirely certain what to look for to get going on this. My issue: NWS uses a protocol for calibrating our river models using a mixed conceptual/physically-based model. We want to assess whether a new calibration is better than an old calibration. This seems like a great application for a Bayesian approach. However, a lot of the literature I am finding (and methods I am more familiar with) are associated with assessing goodness-of-fit and validation for models that were fit within a Bayesian framework, and then validated in a Bayesian framework. I am interested in assessing how a non-Bayesian model output compares with another non-Bayesian model output with respect to observations. Someday I would like to learn to use Bayesian methods to calibrate our models but one step at a time!

My response: I think you need somehow to give a Bayesian interpretation to your non-Bayesian model output. This could be as simple as taking 95% prediction intervals and interpreting them as 95% posterior intervals from a normally-distributed posterior. Or if the non-Bayesian fit only gives point estimates, then do some boostrapping or something to get an effective posterior. Then you can use external validation or cross validation to compare the predictive distributions of your different models, as discussed here; also see Aki’s faq on cross validation.

A Hydrologist and Flood Forecaster . . . how cool is that?? Last time we had this level of cool was back in 2009 when we were contacted by someone who was teaching statistics to firefighters.

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