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Partial Pooling for Lower Variance Variable Encoding


Terraces
Banaue rice terraces. Photo: Jon Rawlinson

In a previous article, we showed the use of partial pooling, or hierarchical/multilevel models, for level coding high-cardinality categorical variables in vtreat. In this article, we will discuss a little more about the how and why of partial pooling in R.

We will use the lme4 package to fit the hierarchical models. The acronym “lme” stands for “linear mixed-effects” models: models that combine so-called “fixed effects” and “random effects” in a single (generalized) linear model. The lme4 documentation uses the random/fixed effects terminology, but we are going to follow Gelman and Hill, and avoid the use of the terms “fixed” and “random” effects.

The varying coefficients [corresponding to the levels of a categorical variable] in a multilevel model are sometimes called random effects, a term that refers to the randomness in the probability model for the group-level coefficients….

The term fixed effects is used in contrast to random effects – but not in a consistent way! … Because of the conflicting definitions and advice, we will avoid the terms “fixed” and “random” entirely, and focus on the description of the model itself…

– Gelman and Hill 2007, Chapter 11.4

We will also restrict ourselves to the case that vtreat considers: partially pooled estimates of conditional group expectations, with no other predictors considered.

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