David Robinson (aka drob) is one of the best known R programmers.

Since a couple of years David has been sharing his knowledge through streaming screencasts of him programming. It’s basically part of R’s #tidytuesday movement.

Alex Cookson decided to do us all a favor and annotate all these screencasts into a nice overview.

Here you can search for video material of David using a specific function or method. There are already over a thousand linked fragments!

Very useful if you want to learn how to visualize data using ggplot2 or plotly, how to work with factors in forcats, or how to tidy data using tidyr and dplyr.

For instance, you could search for specific R functions and packages you want to learn about:

Thanks David for sharing your knowledge, and thanks Alex for maintaining this overview!

Cohen’s d (wiki) is a statistic used to indicate the standardised difference between two means. Resarchers often use it to compare the averages between groups, for instance to determine that there are higher outcomes values in a experimental group than in a control group.

Researchers often use general guidelines to determine the size of an effect. Looking at Cohen’s d, psychologists often consider effects to be small when Cohen’s d is between 0.2 or 0.3, medium effects (whatever that may mean) are assumed for values around 0.5, and values of Cohen’s d larger than 0.8 would depict large effects (e.g., University of Bath).

By the way, Kristoffer hosts many other interesting visualization tools (most made with JavaScript’s D3 library) on statistics and statistical phenomena on his website, have a look!

In this great tutorial for PyCon 2020, Eric Ma proposes a very simple framework for machine learning, consisting of only three elements:

Model

Loss function

Optimizer

By adjusting the three elements in this simple framework, you can build any type of machine learning program.

In the tutorial, Eric shows you how to implement this same framework in Python (using jax) and implement linear regression, logistic regression, and artificial neural networks all in the same way (using gradient descent).

I can’t even begin to explain it as well as Eric does himself, so I highly recommend you watch and code along with the Youtube tutorial (~1 hour):

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a deep learning framework? Or what is going on behind that pre-trained model that you took from Kaggle? Then this tutorial is for you! In this tutorial, we will demystify the internals of deep learning frameworks – in the process equipping us with foundational knowledge that lets us understand what is going on when we train and fit a deep learning model. By learning the foundations without a deep learning framework as a pedagogical crutch, you will walk away with foundational knowledge that will give you the confidence to implement any model you want in any framework you choose.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.