Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Adam Branscum

Second Advisor

Dr. Kert Viele


In a Bayesian framework, prior distributions on a space of nonparametric continuous distributions may be defined using Polya trees. This dissertation addresses statistical problems for which the Polya tree idea can be utilized to provide efficient and practical methodological solutions.

One problem considered is the estimation of risks, odds ratios, or other similar measures that are derived by specifying a threshold for an observed continuous variable. It has been previously shown that fitting a linear model to the continuous outcome under the assumption of a logistic error distribution leads to more efficient odds ratio estimates. We will show that deviations from the assumption of logistic error can result in great bias in odds ratio estimates. A one-step approximation to the Savage-Dickey ratio will be presented as a Bayesian test for distributional assumptions in the traditional logistic regression model. The approximation utilizes least-squares estimates in the place of a full Bayesian Markov Chain simulation, and the equivalence of inferences based on the two implementations will be shown. A framework for flexible, semiparametric estimation of risks in the case that the assumption of logistic error is rejected will be proposed.

A second application deals with regression scenarios in which residuals are correlated and their distribution evolves over an ordinal covariate such as time. In the context of prediction, such complex error distributions need to be modeled carefully and flexibly. The proposed model introduces dependent, but separate Polya tree priors for each time point, thus pooling information across time points to model gradual changes in distributional shapes. Theoretical properties of the proposed model will be outlined, and its potential predictive advantages in simulated scenarios and real data will be demonstrated.