I read through some other forums with the same error but have not yet been able to figure out my case. When I run the model:

y <- Fairfield$incidents
n <- Fairfield$population
N <- nrow(Fairfield)
jData <- list("y", "n", "N")

model <- function()

for(i in 1:N)
 y[i] ~ dbin(theta[i], n[i]) #y is incidents, n is population, theta is probability
 logit(theta[i]) <- logit.theta[i] # initialize for MCMC
 logit.theta[i] ~ dnorm(mu, inv.omega.squared) # logit to connect thetas under one hyper-parameter
inv.omega.squared <- 1/pow(omega,2)
omega ~ dunif(0,100)
mu ~ dunif(-100,100)
alpha[3] ~ dnorm(2*alpha[2]-alpha[1],1000000*tau.a)
alpha[4] ~ dnorm(2*alpha[3]-alpha[2],1000000*tau.a)
alpha[5] ~ dnorm(2*alpha[4]-alpha[3],1000000*tau.a)
alpha[6] ~ dnorm(2*alpha[5]-alpha[4],1000000*tau.a)
alpha[7] ~ dnorm(2*alpha[6]-alpha[5],1000000*tau.a)
alpha[8] ~ dnorm(2*alpha[7]-alpha[6],1000000*tau.a)
alpha[9] ~ dnorm(2*alpha[8]-alpha[7],1000000*tau.a)
alpha[10] ~ dnorm(2*alpha[9]-alpha[8],1000000*tau.a)
alpha[11] ~ dnorm(2*alpha[10]-alpha[9],1000000*tau.a)
alpha[1] ~ dnorm(0,1000000*tau.a)
alpha[2] ~ dnorm(0,1000000*tau.a)
beta[3] ~ dnorm(2*beta[2]-beta[1],1000000*tau.b)
beta[4] ~ dnorm(2*beta[3]-beta[2],1000000*tau.b)
beta[5] ~ dnorm(2*beta[4]-beta[3],1000000*tau.b)
beta[6] ~ dnorm(2*beta[5]-beta[4],1000000*tau.b)
beta[7] ~ dnorm(2*beta[6]-beta[5],1000000*tau.b)
beta[1] ~ dnorm(0,1000000*tau.b)
beta[2] ~ dnorm(0,1000000*tau.b)
gamma[3] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[2]-gamma[1],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[4] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[3]-gamma[2],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[5] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[4]-gamma[3],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[6] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[5]-gamma[4],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[7] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[6]-gamma[5],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[8] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[7]-gamma[6],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[9] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[8]-gamma[7],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[10] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[9]-gamma[8],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[11] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[10]-gamma[9],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[12] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[11]-gamma[10],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[13] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[12]-gamma[11],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[14] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[13]-gamma[12],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[15] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[14]-gamma[13],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[16] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[15]-gamma[14],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[17] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[16]-gamma[15],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[1] ~ dnorm(0,1000000*tau.g)
gamma[2] ~ dnorm(0,1000000*tau.g)

tau.a ~ dgamma(.001,.001)
tau.b ~ dgamma(.001,.001)
tau.g ~ dgamma(.001,.001)

require(R2jags); invisible(runif(1))
fit <- jags(model=model, param=c("n","theta","mu","omega","alpha",
data=jData, n.iter=10000, n.thin=1)

I get the error:

Error: Error in node gamma[2] Invalid parent values

I thought the issue might be in my tau's, as other answers have involved either accidentally having 0 as a gamma parameter or landing negative values for variance in normal distributions, but I can't figure out the issue with mine. Any help is greatly appreciated, I'm not great with JAGS (or Bayesian methods in general).

***EDIT, updated the variance (or precision, technically) in the models and still get the error. ***EDIT 2, removed the loop and expanded, still get invalid parent error with beta[2].


2 Answers 2


This is just a guess, but one of the distributions might be receiving invalid values.

For example you have the line:

 gamma[i] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[i-1],gamma[i-2]*1000000*tau.g)

The variance (or precision as is the case in JAGS) of a normal distribution must be greater than zero. So if you are getting a negative number ever in gamma[i-2]*1000000*tau.g then you're going to get an error. Given that gamma is sampled from a normal distribution, it seems likely that you might get a negative variance.

So for example, if you have a variance parameter like gamma, you need to make sure that it respects the requirements of the distribution. For example, this is why we often use a gamma distribution or a uniform distribution with lower limit equal to zero when sampling variance parameters. It ensures that you don't get negative variances.

  • $\begingroup$ whoops. I had edited the model so that, for instance, gamma[i] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[i-1],gamma[i-2]*1000000*tau.g) became gamma[i] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[i-1]-gamma[i-2],1000000*tau.g), so that the variance (or precision) was always greater than 0 and still have the error. The update is an edit in the main post $\endgroup$
    – src471
    Dec 18, 2015 at 3:21

This part of your code is incorrect:

for (i in 3:17){
gamma[i] ~ dnorm(2*gamma[i-1]-gamma[i-2],1000000*tau.g)
gamma[1] ~ dnorm(0,1000000*tau.g)
gamma[2] ~ dnorm(0,1000000*tau.g)

you have only gamma[1] and gamma[2] declared, while you refer to values from 1 to 17. "For-loops" in BUGS and JAGS are not for-loops as known from programming languages, they do not allow you to do operations sequentially. JAGS/BUGS are declarative languages, you use them only to declare structure of your model, rather then the procedure that is to be followed for estimating it. So what for-loop in BUGS/JAGS means is only the declaration that something is applied to cases i in 1:n and not that it is applied sequentially.

Quoting Plummer (2003) himself

3.2 For loops
The existence of “for” loops in the BUGS language is somewhat incongruous, since it is a declarative language, not a procedural one. For loops can be thought of as a kind of macro that succinctly describes repetitive structures. For example, the loop:

for (i in 1:2) {
mu[i] <- alpha + beta*(x[i] - x.bar);
Y[i]   ~ dnorm(mu[i], tau);

can be thought of as expanding to

mu[1] <- alpha + beta*(x[1] - x.bar);
Y[1]   ~ dnorm(mu[1], tau);
mu[2] <- alpha + beta*(x[2] - x.bar);
Y[2]   ~ dnorm(mu[2], tau);

Plummer, M. (2003, March). JAGS: A program for analysis of Bayesian graphical models using Gibbs sampling. In Proceedings of the 3rd international workshop on distributed statistical computing (Vol. 124, p. 125). Technische Universit at Wien.

  • $\begingroup$ I expanded all of the alphas, betas, and gammas and still have the same issue (though now it decides that parent values for beta[2] are invalid. I've edited the question to include the update $\endgroup$
    – src471
    Dec 18, 2015 at 16:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Sorry but code debugging questions are off-topic on this site, please also do not edit your question so to change it -- additional question should be posted as new question. Your question probably better suites to codereview.stackexchange.com where it would be more on-topic. $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    Dec 18, 2015 at 18:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @src471 Did you figure out the error? I am having the same problem. $\endgroup$ Dec 10, 2018 at 20:34

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