Warsaw University
October 2022 - January 2023

Bayesian Networks: Course Information


This course deals with graphical models, a subject that is an interaction between probability theory and graph theory. The topic provides a natural tool for dealing with a large class of problems containing uncertainty and complexity. These features occur throughout applied mathematics and engineering and therefore the material treated has diverse applications in the engineering sciences. A complex model is built by combining simpler parts, an idea known as modularity. The uncertainty in the system is modelled using probability theory; the graph helps to indicate independence structures that enable the probability distribution to be decomposed into smaller pieces. Bayesian networks represent joint probability models among given variables. Each variable is represented by a vertex in a graph. The direct dependencies between the variables are represented by directed edges between the corresponding nodes and the conditional probabilities for each variable (that is the probabilities conditioned on the various possible combinations of values for the immediate predecessors in the network) are stored in tables attached to the dependent nodes. Information about the observed value of a variable is propagated through the network to update the probability distributions over other variables that are not observed directly. These influences may also be identified in a ‘backwards’ direction, from dependent variables to their predecessors. The Bayesian approach to uncertainty ensures that the system as a whole remains consistent and provides a way to apply the model to data. Graph theory helps to illustrate and utilise independence structures within interacting sets of variables, hence facilitating the design of efficient algorithms.

The course has particular emphasis on causal models, where the directed arrows in the Directed Acyclic Graph represent direct cause to effect relations between the variables. A problem of particular importance is learning a causal effect simply from observational data. For example, in medical statistics, we may be interested in whether a new drug out-performs existing treatments. We would like to perform a controlled experiment whereby half of the participants are assigned to a control group (where they are not given the new treatment) and the other half are given the new treatment. It is a well known phenomenon, though, that people are often unwilling to participate in an experiment carried out on that basis; those who agree to participate usually want the new treatment; the sample of people that agree to participate in a control experiment is itself bias.

A question of importance, therefore, is inferring causality from observational data.

This is a ‘hot topic’ and was the subject of the the prize for Economics in memory of Alfred Nobel (click here for press release) . A more complete scientific description may be found here: (the pdf `Answering Causal Questions using Observational Data may be found by clicking on this link.

Course Organisation
The teaching schedule consists of 13 lectures and 13 tutorials. These take place:
Location: Room 2270
October 2022: 5th, 12th, 19th, 26th
November 2022: 9th, 16th, 23rd, 30th
December 2022 7th, 14th
January 2023 11th, 18th, 25th

Course Content

The lectures are taken from the text that should become the second edition of the book ‘Bayesian Networks: An Introduction’, which can be found by clicking here. Tutorials Grading Policy
Assessment is based on student seminars based on the Bayesian Networks literature.

Data files may be found here.

(Last modified: 6th October 2022 by  John M. Noble)