Random forest importance measures are NOT important

Random Forests (RF from here onwards) is a widely used pure-prediction algorithm. This post assumes good familiarity with RF. If you are not familiar with this algorithm, stop here and see the first reference below for an easy tutorial. If you used RF before and you are familiar with it, then you probably encountered those “importance of the variables” plots. We start with a brief explanation of those plots, and the concept of importance scores calculation. Main takeaway from the post: don’t use those importance scores plots, because they are simply misleading. Those importance plots are simply a wrong turn taken by our human tendency to look for reason, whether it’s there or it’s not there.

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Understanding Variance Explained in PCA – Matrix Approximation

Principal component analysis (PCA from here on) is performed via linear algebra functions called eigen decomposition or singular value decomposition. Since you are actually reading this, you may well have used PCA in the past, at school or where you work. There is a strong link between PCA and the usual least squares regression (previous posts here and here). More recently I explained what does variance explained by the first principal component actually means.

This post offers a matrix approximation perspective. As a by-product, we also show how to compare two matrices, to see how different they are from each other. Matrix approximation is a bit math-hairy, but we keep it simple here I promise. For this fascinating field itself I suspect a rise in importance. We are constantly stretching what we can do computationally, and by using approximations rather than the actual data, we can ease that burden. The price for using approximation is decrease in accuracy (à la “garbage in garbage out”), but with good approximation the tradeoff between the accuracy and computational time is favorable.

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Why complex models are data-hungry?

If you regularly read this blog then you know I am not one to jump on the “AI Bandwagon”, being quickly weary of anyone flashing the “It’s Artificial Intelligence” joker card. Don’t get me wrong, I understand it is a sexy term I, but to me it always feels a bit like a sales pitch.

If the machine does anything (artificially) intelligent it means that the model at the back is complex, and complex models need massive (massive I say) amounts of data. This is because of the infamous Curse of dimensionality.

I know it. You know it. Complex models need a lot of data. You have read this fact, even wrote it at some point. But why is it the case? “So we get a good estimate of the parameter, and a good forecast thereafter”, you reply. I accept. But.. what is it about simple models that they could suffice themselves with much less data compared to complex models? Why do I always recommend to start simple? and why the literature around shrinkage and overfitting is as prolific as it is?

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Curse of dimensionality part 3: Higher-Order Comoments

Higher moments such as Skewness and Kurtosis are not as explored as they should be.

These moments are crucial for managing portfolio risk. At least as important as volatility, if not more. Skewness relates to asymmetry risk and Kurtosis relates to tail risk.

Despite their great importance, those higher moments enjoy only a small portion of attention compared with their lower more friendly moments: the mean and the variance. In my opinion, one reason for this may be the impossibility of estimating those moments, estimating them accurately that is.

It is yet another situation where Curse of Dimensonality rears its enchanting head (and an idea for a post is born..).

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LASSO, LASSO, LASSO

LASSO stands for Least Absolute Shrinkage and Selection Operator. It was first introduced 21 years ago by Robert Tibshirani (Regression shrinkage and selection via the lasso. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series B). In 2004 the four statistical masters: Efron, Hastie, Johnstone and Tibshirani joined together to write the paper Least angle regression published in the Annals of statistics. It is that paper that sent the LASSO to the podium. The reason? they removed a computational barrier. Armed with a new ingenious geometric interpretation, they presented an algorithm for solving the LASSO problem. The algorithm is as simple as solving an OLS problem, and with computer code to accompany their paper, the LASSO was set for its liftoff*.

The LASSO overall reduces model complexity. It does this by completely excluding some variables, using only a subset of the original potential explanatory variables. Since this can add to the story of the model, the reduction in complexity is a desired property. Clarity of authors’ exposition and well rehashed computer code are further reasons for the fully justified, full fledged LASSO flareup.

This is not a LASSO tutorial. Google-search results, undoubtedly refined over years of increased popularity, are clear enough by now. Also, if you are still reading this I imagine you already know what is the LASSO and how it works. To continue from this point, what follows is a selective list of milestones from the academic literature- some theoretical and practical extensions.

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Understanding False Discovery Rate

False Discovery Rate is an unintuitive name for a very intuitive statistical concept. The math involved is as elegant as possible. Still, it is not an easy concept to actually understand. Hence i thought it would be a good idea to write this short tutorial.

We reviewed this important topic in the past, here as one of three Present-day great statistical discoveries, here in the context of backtesting trading strategies, and here in the context of scientific publishing. This post target the casual reader, explaining the concept of False Discovery Rate in plain words.

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Human significance, economic significance and statistical significance

We are now collecting a lot of data. This is a good thing in general. But data collection and data storage capabilities have evolved fast. Much faster than statistical methods to go along with those voluminous numbers. We are still using good ole fashioned Fisherian statistics. Back then, when you had not too many observations, statistical significance actually meant something.

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