How 457 data scientists failed to predict life outcomes

How 457 data scientists failed to predict life outcomes

This blog highlights a recent PNAS paper in which 457 data scientists and academic scholars were challenged use machine learning to predict life outcomes using a rich dataset.

Yet, I can not summarize the result better than this tweet by the author of the paper:

Over 750 scientific papers have used the Fragile Families dataset.

The dataset is famous for its richness of cohort (survey) data on the included families’ lives and their childrens’ upbringings. It includes a whopping 12.942 variables!!

Some of these variables reflect interesting life outcomes of the included families.

For instance, the childrens’ grade point averages (GPA) and grit, but also whether the family was ever evicted or experienced hardship, or whether their primary caregiver had received job training or was laid off at work.

You can read more about the exact data contents in the paper’s appendix.

A visual representation of the data
via pnas.org/content/pnas/117/15/8398/F1.medium.gif

Now Matthew and his co-authors shared this enormous dataset with over 160 teams consisting of 457 academics researchers and data scientists alike. Each of them well versed in statistics and predictive modelling.

These data scientists were challenged with this task: by all means possible, make the most predictive model for the six life outcomes (i.e., GPA, conviction, etc).

The scientists could use all the Fragile Families data, and any algorithm they liked, and their final model and its predictions would be compared against the actual life outcomes in a holdout sample.

According to the paper, many of these teams used machine-learning methods that are not typically used in social science research and that explicitly seek to maximize predictive accuracy.

Now, here’s the summary again:

If hundreds of [data] scientists created predictive algorithms with high-quality data, how well would the best predict life outcomes?

Not very well.

@msalganik

Even the best among the 160 teams’ predictions showed disappointing resemblance of the actual life outcomes. None of the trained models/algorithms achieved an R-squared of over 0.25.

Afbeelding
Via twitter.com/msalganik/status/1263886779603705856/photo/1

Here’s that same plot again, but from the original publication and with more detail:

Via pnas.org/content/117/15/8398

Wondering what these best R-squared of around 0.20 look like? Here’s the disappointg reality of plot C enlarged: the actual TRUE GPA’s on the x-axis, plotted against the best team’s predicted GPA’s on the y-axis.

Afbeelding
Via twitter.com/msalganik/status/1263886781449191424/photo/1

Sure, there’s some relationship, with higher actual scores getting higher (average) predictions. But it ain’t much.

Moreover, there’s very little variation in the predictions. They all clump together between the range of about 2.1 and 3.8… that’s not really setting apart the geniuses from the less bright!

Matthew sums up the implications quite nicely in one of his tweets:

For policymakers deploying predictive algorithms in high-stakes decisions, our result is a reminder of a basic fact: one should not assume that algorithms predict well. That must be demonstrated with transparent, empirical evidence.

@msalganik

According to Matthew this “collective failure of 160 teams” is hard to ignore. And it failure highlights the understanding vs. predicting paradox: these data have been used to generate knowledge on how the world works in over 750 papers, yet few checked to see whether these same data and the scientific models would be useful to predict the life outcomes we’re trying to understand.

I was super excited to read this paper and I love the approach. It is actually quite closely linked to a series of papers I have been working on with Brian Spisak and Brian Doornenbal on trying to predict which people will emerge as organizational leaders. (hint: we could not really, at least not based on their personality)

Apparently, others were as excited as I am about this paper, as Filiz Garip already published a commentary paper on this research piece. Unfortunately, it’s behind a paywall so I haven’t read it yet.

Moreover, if you want to learn more about the approaches the 160 data science teams took in modelling these life outcomes, here are twelve papers in which some teams share their attempts.

Very curious to hear what you think of the paper and its implications. You can access it here, and I’d love to read your comments below.

Determine optimal sample sizes for business value in A/B testing, by Chris Said

Determine optimal sample sizes for business value in A/B testing, by Chris Said

A/B testing is a method of comparing two versions of some thing against each other to determine which is better. A/B tests are often mentioned in e-commerce contexts, where the things we are comparing are web pages.

ab-testing
via optimizely.com/nl/optimization-glossary/ab-testing/

Business leaders and data scientists alike face a difficult trade-off when running A/B tests: How big should the A/B test be? Or in other words, After collecting how many data points, or running for how many days, should we make a decision whether A or B is the best way to go?

This is a tradeoff because the sample size of an A/B test determines its statistical power. This statistical power, in simple terms, determines the probability of a A/B test showing an effect if there is actually really an effect. In general, the more data you collect, the higher the odds of you finding the real effect and making the right decision.

By default, researchers often aim for 80% power, with a 5% significance cutoff. But is this general guideline really optimal for the tradeoff between costs and benefits in your specific business context? Chris thinks not.

Chris said wrote a great three-piece blog in which he explains how you can mathematically determine the optimal duration of A/B-testing in your own company setting:

Part I: General Overview. Starts with a mostly non-technical overview and ends with a section called “Three lessons for practitioners”.

Part II: Expected lift. A more technical section that quantifies the benefits of experimentation as a function of sample size.

Part III: Aggregate time-discounted lift. A more technical section that quantifies the costs of experimentation as a function of sample size. It then combines costs and benefits into a closed-form expression that can be optimized. Ends with an FAQ.

Chris Said (via)

Moreover, Chris provides three practical advices that show underline 80% statistical power is not always the best option:

  1. You should run “underpowered” experiments if you have a very high discount rate
  2. You should run “underpowered” experiments if you have a small user base
  3. Neverheless, it’s far better to run your experiment too long than too short
Simulations shows that for Chris’ hypothetical company and A/B test, 38 days would be the optimal period of time to gather data
via chris-said.io/2020/01/10/optimizing-sample-sizes-in-ab-testing-part-I/

Chris ran all his simulations in Python and shared the notebooks.

Making Pictures 3D using Context-aware Layered Depth Inpainting

Making Pictures 3D using Context-aware Layered Depth Inpainting

Several Chinese Ph.D. students wrote a PyTorch program that can turn your holiday pictures into 3D sceneries. They call it 3D photo inpainting. Here are some examples

And here’s the new method compares to previous techniques:

Here are several links to more detailed resources: [Paper] [Project Website] [Google Colab] [GitHub]

We propose a method for converting a single RGB-D input image into a 3D photo, i.e., a multi-layer representation for novel view synthesis that contains hallucinated color and depth structures in regions occluded in the original view. We use a Layered Depth Image with explicit pixel connectivity as underlying representation, and present a learning-based inpainting model that iteratively synthesizes new local color-and-depth content into the occluded region in a spatial context-aware manner. The resulting 3D photos can be efficiently rendered with motion parallax using standard graphics engines. We validate the effectiveness of our method on a wide range of challenging everyday scenes and show fewer artifacts when compared with the state-of-the-arts.

Via github.com/vt-vl-lab/3d-photo-inpainting
3D Photography Inpainting: Exploring Art with AI. - Towards Data ...
I loved this one as well, but it could be a different technique used, via Medium
Automatically create perfect .gitignore file for your project

Automatically create perfect .gitignore file for your project

These days, I am often programming in multiple different languages for my projects. I will do some data generation and machine learning in Python. The data exploration and some quick visualizations I prefer to do in R. And if I’m feeling adventureous, I might add some Processing or JavaScript visualizations.

Obviously, I want to track and store the versions of my programs and the changes between them. I probably don’t have to tell you that git is the tool to do so.

Normally, you’d have a .gitignore file in your project folder, and all files that are not listed (or have patterns listed) in the .gitignore file are backed up online.

However, when you are working in multiple languages simulatenously, it can become a hassle to assure that only the relevant files for each language are committed to Github.

Each language will have their own “by-files”. R projects come with .Rdata, .Rproj, .Rhistory and so on, whereas Python projects generate pycaches and what not. These you don’t want to commit preferably.

Enter the stage, gitignore.io:

Here you simply enter the operating systems, IDEs, or Programming languages you are working with, and it will generate the appropriate .gitignore contents for you.

Let’s try it out

For my current project, I am working with Python and R in Visual Studio Code. So I enter:

And Voila, I get the perfect .gitignore including all specifics for these programs and languages:


# Created by https://www.gitignore.io/api/r,python,visualstudiocode
# Edit at https://www.gitignore.io/?templates=r,python,visualstudiocode

### Python ###
# Byte-compiled / optimized / DLL files
__pycache__/
*.py[cod]
*$py.class

# C extensions
*.so

# Distribution / packaging
.Python
build/
develop-eggs/
dist/
downloads/
eggs/
.eggs/
lib/
lib64/
parts/
sdist/
var/
wheels/
pip-wheel-metadata/
share/python-wheels/
*.egg-info/
.installed.cfg
*.egg
MANIFEST

# PyInstaller
#  Usually these files are written by a python script from a template
#  before PyInstaller builds the exe, so as to inject date/other infos into it.
*.manifest
*.spec

# Installer logs
pip-log.txt
pip-delete-this-directory.txt

# Unit test / coverage reports
htmlcov/
.tox/
.nox/
.coverage
.coverage.*
.cache
nosetests.xml
coverage.xml
*.cover
.hypothesis/
.pytest_cache/

# Translations
*.mo
*.pot

# Scrapy stuff:
.scrapy

# Sphinx documentation
docs/_build/

# PyBuilder
target/

# pyenv
.python-version

# pipenv
#   According to pypa/pipenv#598, it is recommended to include Pipfile.lock in version control.
#   However, in case of collaboration, if having platform-specific dependencies or dependencies
#   having no cross-platform support, pipenv may install dependencies that don't work, or not
#   install all needed dependencies.
#Pipfile.lock

# celery beat schedule file
celerybeat-schedule

# SageMath parsed files
*.sage.py

# Spyder project settings
.spyderproject
.spyproject

# Rope project settings
.ropeproject

# Mr Developer
.mr.developer.cfg
.project
.pydevproject

# mkdocs documentation
/site

# mypy
.mypy_cache/
.dmypy.json
dmypy.json

# Pyre type checker
.pyre/

### R ###
# History files
.Rhistory
.Rapp.history

# Session Data files
.RData
.RDataTmp

# User-specific files
.Ruserdata

# Example code in package build process
*-Ex.R

# Output files from R CMD build
/*.tar.gz

# Output files from R CMD check
/*.Rcheck/

# RStudio files
.Rproj.user/

# produced vignettes
vignettes/*.html
vignettes/*.pdf

# OAuth2 token, see https://github.com/hadley/httr/releases/tag/v0.3
.httr-oauth

# knitr and R markdown default cache directories
*_cache/
/cache/

# Temporary files created by R markdown
*.utf8.md
*.knit.md

### R.Bookdown Stack ###
# R package: bookdown caching files
/*_files/

### VisualStudioCode ###
.vscode/*
!.vscode/settings.json
!.vscode/tasks.json
!.vscode/launch.json
!.vscode/extensions.json

### VisualStudioCode Patch ###
# Ignore all local history of files
.history

# End of https://www.gitignore.io/api/r,python,visualstudiocode

Try it out yourself: http://gitignore.io/

How to Write a Git Commit Message, in 7 Steps

How to Write a Git Commit Message, in 7 Steps

Version control is an essential tool for any software developer. Hence, any respectable data scientist has to make sure his/her analysis programs and machine learning pipelines are reproducible and maintainable through version control.

Often, we use git for version control. If you don’t know what git is yet, I advise you begin here. If you work in R, start here and here. If you work in Python, start here.

This blog is intended for those already familiar working with git, but who want to learn how to write better, more informative git commit messages. Actually, this blog is just a summary fragment of this original blog by Chris Beams, which I thought deserved a wider audience.

Chris’ 7 rules of great Git commit messaging

  1. Separate subject from body with a blank line
  2. Limit the subject line to 50 characters
  3. Capitalize the subject line
  4. Do not end the subject line with a period
  5. Use the imperative mood in the subject line
  6. Wrap the body at 72 characters
  7. Use the body to explain what and why vs. how

For example:

Summarize changes in around 50 characters or less

More detailed explanatory text, if necessary. Wrap it to about 72
characters or so. In some contexts, the first line is treated as the
subject of the commit and the rest of the text as the body. The
blank line separating the summary from the body is critical (unless
you omit the body entirely); various tools like `log`, `shortlog`
and `rebase` can get confused if you run the two together.

Explain the problem that this commit is solving. Focus on why you
are making this change as opposed to how (the code explains that).
Are there side effects or other unintuitive consequences of this
change? Here's the place to explain them.

Further paragraphs come after blank lines.

 - Bullet points are okay, too

 - Typically a hyphen or asterisk is used for the bullet, preceded
   by a single space, with blank lines in between, but conventions
   vary here

If you use an issue tracker, put references to them at the bottom,
like this:

Resolves: #123
See also: #456, #789

If you’re having a hard time summarizing your commits in a single line or message, you might be committing too many changes at once. Instead, you should try to aim for what’s called atomic commits.

Cover image by XKCD#1296

A free, self-taught education in Computer Science!

A free, self-taught education in Computer Science!

The Open Source Society University offers a complete education in computer science using online materials.

They offer a proper introduction to the fundamental concepts for all computing disciplines. Evyerthing form algorithms, logic, and machine learning, up to databases, full stack web development, and graphics is covered. Moreover, you will acquire skills in a variety of languages, including Python, Java, C, C++, Scala, JavaScript, and many more.

According to their GitHub page, the curriculum is suited for people with the discipline, will, and good habits to obtain this education largely on their own, but who’d still like support from a worldwide community of fellow learners.

Curriculum

  • Intro CS: for students to try out CS and see if it’s right for them
  • Core CS: corresponds roughly to the first three years of a computer science curriculum, taking classes that all majors would be required to take
  • Advanced CS: corresponds roughly to the final year of a computer science curriculum, taking electives according to the student’s interests
  • Final Project: a project for students to validate, consolidate, and display their knowledge, to be evaluated by their peers worldwide
  • Pro CS: graduate-level specializations students can elect to take after completing the above curriculum if they want to maximize their chances of getting a good job

It is possible to finish Core CS within about 2 years if you plan carefully and devote roughly 18-22 hours/week to your studies. Courses in Core CS should be taken linearly if possible, but since a perfectly linear progression is rarely possible, each class’s prerequisites are specified so that you can design a logical but non-linear progression based on the class schedules and your own life plans.

Links to the contents

Links to the curriculum (v8.0.0)

Predictive Power Score: Finding predictive patterns in your dataset

Predictive Power Score: Finding predictive patterns in your dataset

Last week, I shared this Medium blog on PPS — or Predictive Power Score — on my LinkedIn and got so many enthousiastic responses, that I had to share it with here too.

Basically, the predictive power score is a normalized metric (values range from 0 to 1) that shows you to what extent you can use a variable X (say age) to predict a variable Y (say weight in kgs).

A PPS high score of, for instance, 0.85, would show that weight can be predicted pretty good using age.

A low PPS score, of say 0.10, would imply that weight is hard to predict using age.

The PPS acts a bit like a correlation coefficient we’re used too, but it is also different in many ways that are useful to data scientists:

  1. PPS also detects and summarizes non-linear relationships
  2. PPS is assymetric, so that it models Y ~ X, but not necessarily X ~ Y
  3. PPS can summarize predictive value of / among categorical variables and nominal data

However, you may argue that the PPS is harder to interpret than the common correlation coefficent:

  1. PPS can reflect quite complex and very different patterns
  2. Therefore, PPS are hard to compare: a 0.5 may reflect a linear relationship but also many other relationships
  3. PPS are highly dependent on the used algorithm: you can use any algorithm from OLS to CART to full-blown NN or XGBoost. Your algorithm hihgly depends the patterns you’ll detect and thus your scores
  4. PPS are highly dependent on the the evaluation metric (RMSE, MAE, etc).

Here’s an example picture from the original blog, showing a case in which PSS shows the relevant predictive value of Y ~ X, whereas a correlation coefficient would show no relationship whatsoever:

https://towardsdatascience.com/rip-correlation-introducing-the-predictive-power-score-3d90808b9598

Here’s two more pictures from the original blog showing the differences with a standard correlation matrix on the Titanic data:

I highly suggest you read the original blog for more details and information, and that you check out the associated Python package ppscore:

Installing the package:

pip install ppscore

Calculating the PPS for a given pandas dataframe:

import ppscore as pps
pps.score(df, "feature_column", "target_column")

You can also calculate the whole PPS matrix:

pps.matrix(df)

There’s no R package yet, but it should not be hard to implement this general logic.

Florian Wetschoreck — the author — already noted that there may be several use cases where he’d think PPS may add value:

Find patterns in the data [red: data exploration]: The PPS finds every relationship that the correlation finds — and more. Thus, you can use the PPS matrix as an alternative to the correlation matrix to detect and understand linear or nonlinear patterns in your data. This is possible across data types using a single score that always ranges from 0 to 1.

Feature selection: In addition to your usual feature selection mechanism, you can use the predictive power score to find good predictors for your target column. Also, you can eliminate features that just add random noise. Those features sometimes still score high in feature importance metrics. In addition, you can eliminate features that can be predicted by other features because they don’t add new information. Besides, you can identify pairs of mutually predictive features in the PPS matrix — this includes strongly correlated features but will also detect non-linear relationships.

Detect information leakage: Use the PPS matrix to detect information leakage between variables — even if the information leakage is mediated via other variables.

Data Normalization: Find entity structures in the data via interpreting the PPS matrix as a directed graph. This might be surprising when the data contains latent structures that were previously unknown. For example: the TicketID in the Titanic dataset is often an indicator for a family.

https://towardsdatascience.com/rip-correlation-introducing-the-predictive-power-score-3d90808b9598