Divergent transitions, or convergence, depending on random seed

I have a model that sometimes, depending on the choice of seed, will converge cleanly, with no error diagnostics, and other times does not converge, with many divergent transitions, despite increasing the adapt_delta to 0.99. Paradoxically (at least to me), rerunning with the same seed that at adapt_delta of 0.99 “works”, then fails to converge when I increase adapt_delta to 0.999 (without changing the seed). I am using rstan_2.19.3 if it makes any difference. Any general advice to better manage such instability? thanks, -Aaron

Hi Aaron,

This indicates that there are parts of the posterior that are difficult for the sampler (either due to tricky geometry or other model issues). The choice of seed is determining whether or not the sampler ends up in those difficult areas and runs into issues. Similarly, by increasing adapt_delta, the sampler is more efficiently navigating the posterior and arriving in those difficult areas.

If you’ve got very wide priors (i.e. normal(0, 1000)), try reducing those to something more reasonable. Also, have a look into reparameterising your model more information in the Stan manual here.

I wouldn’t recommend just using the results from the seed that doesn’t give divergent transitions, since the divergences are indicating a problem with your model that should be addressed.

Also, I’ve no doubt mangled the NUTS/sampling explanation a little here, so I’d be interested in having @betanalpha correct anything I’ve gotten wrong


Andrew, thanks for your clear explanation. Indeed, simply adding priors to shy away from insane values stabilized everything quite nicely (and of course it all runs much faster now too). When I don’t bother to put priors on parameters in the model block, does that equate to normal(0, 1000), or something else entirely? -Aaron

The implicit prior density is constant, otherwise known as a “uniform prior”, although that term can be somewhat ill-defined. For more detail see the first there paragraphs of https://betanalpha.github.io/assets/case_studies/stan_intro.html#436_model_block.