I am going to write about an insidious statistical, data analysis, and presentation fallacy I call “the zero bug” and the habits you need to cultivate to avoid it.
The zero bug
Here is the zero bug in a nutshell: common data aggregation tools often can not “count to zero” from examples, and this causes problems. Please read on for what this means, the consequences, and how to avoid the problem. Continue reading The Zero Bug
[Reader’s Note. Some of our articles are applied and some of our articles are more theoretical. The following article is more theoretical, and requires fairly formal notation to even work through. However, it should be of interest as it touches on some of the fine points of cross-validation that are quite hard to perceive or discuss without the notational framework. We thought about including some “simplifying explanatory diagrams” but so many entities are being introduced and manipulated by the processes we are describing we found equation notation to be in fact cleaner than the diagrams we attempted and rejected.]
Please consider either of the following common predictive modeling tasks:
- Picking hyper-parameters, fitting a model, and then evaluating the model.
- Variable preparation/pruning, fitting a model, and then evaluating the model.
In each case you are building a pipeline where “y-aware” (or outcome aware) choices and transformations made at each stage affect later stages. This can introduce undesirable nested model bias and over-fitting.
Our current standard advice to avoid nested model bias is either:
- Split your data into 3 or more disjoint pieces, such as separate variable preparation/pruning, model fitting, and model evaluation.
- Reserve a test-set for evaluation and use “simulated out of sample data” or “cross-frame”/“cross simulation” techniques to simulate dividing data among the first two model construction stages.
The first practice is simple and computationally efficient, but statistically inefficient. This may not matter if you have a lot of data, as in “big data”. The second procedure is more statistically efficient, but is also more complicated and has some computational cost. For convenience the cross simulation method is supplied as a ready to go procedure in our
R data cleaning and preparation package
What would it look like if we insisted on using cross simulation or simulated out of sample techniques for all three (or more) stages? Please read on to find out.
Hyperbole and a Half copyright Allie Brosh (use allowed in some situations with attribution)
Data preparation and cleaning are some of the most important steps of predictive analytic and data science tasks. They are laborious, where most of the errors are made, your last line of defense against a wild data, and hold the biggest opportunities for outcome improvement. No matter how much time you spend on them, they still seem like a neglected topic. Data preparation isn’t as self contained or genteel as tweaking machine learning models or hyperparameter tuning; and that is one of the reasons data preparation represents such an important practical opportunity for improvement.
Photo: NY – http://nyphotographic.com/, License: Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0
Our group is distributing a detailed writeup of the theory and operation behind our R realization of a set of sound data preparation and cleaning procedures called vtreat here: arXiv:1611.09477 [stat.AP]. This is where you can find out what
vtreat does, decide if it is appropriate for your problem, or even find a specification allowing the use of the techniques in non-
R environments (such as
Spark, and many others).
We have submitted this article for formal publication, so it is our intent you can cite this article (as it stands) in scientific work as a pre-print, and later cite it from a formally refereed source.
Or alternately, below is the tl;dr (“too long; didn’t read”) form. Continue reading Data Preparation, Long Form and tl;dr Form
It’s a common situation to have data from multiple processes in a “long” data format, for example a table with columns
process_that_produced_measurement. It’s also natural to split that data apart to analyze or transform it, per-process — and then to bring the results of that data processing together, for comparison. Such a work pattern is called “Split-Apply-Combine,” and we discuss several R implementations of this pattern here. In this article we show a simple example of one such implementation,
replyr::gapply, from our latest package,
Illustration by Boris Artzybasheff. Image: James Vaughn, some rights reserved.
The example task is to evaluate how several different models perform on the same classification problem, in terms of deviance, accuracy, precision and recall. We will use the “default of credit card clients” data set from the UCI Machine Learning Repository.
Continue reading A Simple Example of Using replyr::gapply
Statisticians and data scientists want a neat world where data is arranged in a table such that every row is an observation or instance, and every column is a variable or measurement. Getting to this state of “ready to model format” (often called a denormalized form by relational algebra types) often requires quite a bit of data manipulation. This is how
data.frames describe themselves (try “
str(data.frame(x=1:2))” in an
R-console to see this) and is part of the tidy data manifesto.
SQL (structured query language) and
dplyr can make the data arrangement process less burdensome, but using them effectively requires “index free thinking” where the data are not thought of in terms of row indices. We will explain and motivate this idea below. Continue reading The case for index-free data manipulation
Imagine that in the course of your analysis, you regularly require summaries of numerical values. For some applications you want the mean of that quantity, plus/minus a standard deviation; for other applications you want the median, and perhaps an interval around the median based on the interquartile range (IQR). In either case, you may want the summary broken down with respect to groupings in the data. In other words, you want a table of values, something like this:
dist_intervals(iris, "Sepal.Length", "Species")
# A tibble: 3 × 7
Species sdlower mean sdupper iqrlower median iqrupper
1 setosa 4.653510 5.006 5.358490 4.8000 5.0 5.2000
2 versicolor 5.419829 5.936 6.452171 5.5500 5.9 6.2500
3 virginica 5.952120 6.588 7.223880 6.1625 6.5 6.8375
For a specific data frame, with known column names, such a table is easy to construct using
dplyr::summarize. But what if you want a function to calculate this table on an arbitrary data frame, with arbitrary quantity and grouping columns? To write such a function in
dplyr can get quite hairy, quite quickly. Try it yourself, and see.
let, from our new package
Continue reading Using replyr::let to Parameterize dplyr Expressions
One thing I teach is: when evaluating the performance of regression models you should not use correlation as your score.
This is because correlation tells you if a re-scaling of your result is useful, but you want to know if the result in your hand is in fact useful. For example: the Mars Climate Orbiter software issued thrust commands in pound-seconds units to an engine expecting the commands to be in newton-seconds units. The two quantities are related by a constant ratio of 1.4881639, and therefore anything measured in pound-seconds units will have a correlation of 1.0 with the same measurement in newton-seconds units. However, one is not the other and the difference is why the Mars Climate Orbiter “encountered Mars at a lower than anticipated altitude and disintegrated due to atmospheric stresses.”
The need for a convenient direct F-test without accidentally triggering the implicit re-scaling that is associated with calculating a correlation is one of the reasons we supply the sigr R library. However, even then things can become confusing.
Please read on for a nasty little example. Continue reading Be careful evaluating model predictions
Nina Zumel and I are happy to announce a formal article discussing data preparation and cleaning using the vtreat methodology is now available from arXiv.org as citation arXiv:1611.09477 [stat.AP].
vtreat is an R
data.frame processor/conditioner that prepares real-world data for predictive modeling in a statistically sound manner. It prepares variables so that data has fewer exceptional cases, making it easier to safely use models in production. Common problems
vtreat defends against include:
NA, too many categorical levels, rare categorical levels, and new categorical levels (levels seen during application, but not during training).
vtreat::prepare should be your first choice for real world data preparation and cleaning.
We hope this article will make getting started with
vtreat much easier. We also hope this helps with citing the use of
vtreat in scientific publications. Continue reading vtreat data cleaning and preparation article now available on arXiv
It is a bit of a shock when R
dplyr users switch from using a
tbl implementation based on R in-memory
data.frames to one based on a remote database or service. A lot of the power and convenience of the
dplyr notation is hard to maintain with these more restricted data service providers. Things that work locally can’t always be used remotely at scale. It is emphatically not yet the case that one can practice with
dplyr in one modality and hope to move to another back-end without significant debugging and work-arounds.
replyr attempts to provide a few helpful work-arounds.
Our new package
replyr supplies methods to get a grip on working with remote
tbl sources (SQL databases, Spark) through
dplyr. The idea is to add convenience functions to make such tasks more like working with an in-memory
data.frame. Results still do depend on which
dplyr service you use, but with
replyr you have fairly uniform access to some useful functions.
Continue reading New R package: replyr (get a grip on remote dplyr data services)
I have previously written on using containerized PostgreSQL with R. This show the steps for using containerized MySQL with R. Continue reading MySql in a container