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
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 have been doing a lot of writing on the (important) details of re-encoding high cardinality categorical variables for predictive modeling. These are variables that essentially take on string-values (also called levels or factors) and vary through many such levels. Typical examples include zip-codes, vendor IDs, and product codes.
In a sort of “burying the lede” way I feel we may not have sufficiently emphasized that you really do need to perform such re-encodings. Below is a graph (generated in R, code available here) of the kind of disaster you see if you throw such variables into a model without any pre-processing or post-controls.
In the above graph each dot represents the performance of a model fit on synthetic data. The x-axis is model performance (in this case pseudo R-squared, 1 being perfect and below zero worse than using an average). The training pane represents performance on the training data (perfect, but over-fit) and the test pane represents performance on held-out test data (an attempt to simulate future application data). Notice the test performance implies these models are dangerously worse than useless.
Please read on for how to fix this. Continue reading You should re-encode high cardinality categorical variables
Nina Zumel recently announced upcoming speaking appearances. I want to promote the upcoming sessions at ODSC West 2016 (11:15am-1:00pm on Friday November 4th, or 3:00pm-4:30pm on Saturday November 5th) and invite executives, managers, and other data science consumers to attend. We assume most of the Win-Vector blog audience is made of practitioners (who we hope are already planning to attend), so we are asking you our technical readers to help promote this talk to a broader audience of executives and managers.
Our messages is: if you have to manage data science projects, you need to know how to evaluate results.
In these talks we will lay out how data science results should be examined and evaluated. If you can’t make ODSC (or do attend and like what you see), please reach out to us and we can arrange to present an appropriate targeted summarized version to your executive team. Continue reading Data science for executives and managers
In our last article on the algebra of classifier measures we encouraged readers to work through Nina Zumel’s original “Statistics to English Translation” series. This series has become slightly harder to find as we have use the original category designation “statistics to English translation” for additional work.
To make things easier here are links to the original three articles which work through scores, significance, and includes a glossery.
A lot of what Nina is presenting can be summed up in the diagram below (also by her). If in the diagram the first row is truth (say red disks are infected) which classifier is the better initial screen for infection? Should you prefer the model 1 80% accurate row or the model 2 70% accurate row? This example helps break dependence on “accuracy as the only true measure” and promote discussion of additional measures.
Beginning analysts and data scientists often ask: “how does one remember and master the seemingly endless number of classifier metrics?”
My concrete advice is:
- Read Nina Zumel’s excellent series on scoring classifiers.
- Keep notes.
- Settle on one or two metrics as you move project to project. We prefer “AUC” early in a project (when you want a flexible score) and “deviance” late in a project (when you want a strict score).
- When working on practical problems work with your business partners to find out which of precision/recall, or sensitivity/specificity most match their business needs. If you have time show them and explain the ROC plot and invite them to price and pick points along the ROC curve that most fit their business goals. Finance partners will rapidly recognize the ROC curve as “the efficient frontier” of classifier performance and be very comfortable working with this summary.
That being said it always seems like there is a bit of gamesmanship in that somebody always brings up yet another score, often apparently in the hope you may not have heard of it. Some choice of measure is signaling your pedigree (precision/recall implies a data mining background, sensitivity/specificity a medical science background) and hoping to befuddle others.
Stanley Wyatt illustration from “Mathmanship” Nicholas Vanserg, 1958, collected in A Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown, Robert A. Baker, Prentice-Hall, 1963
The rest of this note is some help in dealing with this menagerie of common competing classifier evaluation scores.
Continue reading A budget of classifier evaluation measures
Nina Zumel introduced y-aware scaling in her recent article Principal Components Regression, Pt. 2: Y-Aware Methods. I really encourage you to read the article and add the technique to your repertoire. The method combines well with other methods and can drive better predictive modeling results.
From feedback I am not sure everybody noticed that in addition to being easy and effective, the method is actually novel (we haven’t yet found an academic reference to it or seen it already in use after visiting numerous clients). Likely it has been applied before (as it is a simple method), but it is not currently considered a standard method (something we would like to change).
In this note I’ll discuss some of the context of y-aware scaling. Continue reading y-aware scaling in context
In our previous note we demonstrated Y-Aware PCA and other y-aware approaches to dimensionality reduction in a predictive modeling context, specifically Principal Components Regression (PCR). For our examples, we selected the appropriate number of principal components by eye. In this note, we will look at ways to select the appropriate number of principal components in a more automated fashion.
Continue reading Principal Components Regression, Pt. 3: Picking the Number of Components
In our previous note, we discussed some problems that can arise when using standard principal components analysis (specifically, principal components regression) to model the relationship between independent (x) and dependent (y) variables. In this note, we present some dimensionality reduction techniques that alleviate some of those problems, in particular what we call Y-Aware Principal Components Analysis, or Y-Aware PCA. We will use our variable treatment package
vtreat in the examples we show in this note, but you can easily implement the approach independently of
Continue reading Principal Components Regression, Pt. 2: Y-Aware Methods
In this note, we discuss principal components regression and some of the issues with it:
- The need for scaling.
- The need for pruning.
- The lack of “y-awareness” of the standard dimensionality reduction step.
Continue reading Principal Components Regression, Pt.1: The Standard Method