Quite a few Kaggle competitions have used or are using the Logarithmic Loss metric as the quality measure of a submission.

I'm wondering if there are other ways besides N-fold cross-validation to calculate confidence intervals for this metric. If model X has a log loss of 0.123456 on the test set and model Y has a log loss of 0.123457, I'm sure you'll agree that model X is not significantly better than model Y, unless we're talking about a gazillion data points.

Why something else than N-fold cross-validation? Simple answer: performance. For a certain application I need to know whether model X is significantly better than model Y (when looking at Log Loss). In other words, I need to know whether the Log Loss for model X falls outside the 95% confidence interval for the Log Loss of model Y.

I need to do this comparison many, many times with different models and datasets that are coming in every day. Performance is crucial, so doing 10-fold cross-validation a 1,000 times to get a rough estimate of the confidence intervals is not going to cut it, I'm afraid. The datasets for which I have to calculate the log loss are usually in the range of say 50 positives and 10,000 negatives to 20,000 positives and 1 million negatives.

What would you advise?


1 Answer 1


A reasonable way to estimate the confidence interval for log_loss metric is to assume that the model X is a perfect model, meaning that X gives true probabilities of output of classes for every sample in test set.

Consider two-class case. Then log_loss metric is an average of independent $N$ random variables, each one of which takes value $\log(p_j)$ with probability $p_j$ and value $\log(1-p_j)$ with probability $(1-p_j)$. Here $N$ is the size of test set.

It is theoretically possible to compute the resulting distribution of log_loss as a sum of random variables with known distributions analytically, but is quite challenging. It is easier to get a numerical approximation by Monte-Carlo procedure.

Here is a sketch of the algorithm:

  1. Compute predictions $p_j$ of model X for each sample from test set.

  2. Generate fake class labels for each sample $p_j<u$, where $u$ is uniform on $(0..1)$.

  3. Compute log_loss using fake class labels

  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 many times.

  5. Compute standard deviation of log_loss estimates over the repetitions.

  6. Compute confidence interval estimation by multiplying standard deviation by a constant corresponding to desired confidence level.

I have evaluated this approach on a proprietary click through dataset by comparing estimated standard deviation to the standard deviation obtained by splitting test set into multiple independent subsets of equal size and computing log_loss standard deviation from them.

I have found that standard deviation of the log_loss depends on the number of samples in test set $N$ in an expected way: $$ std = \frac{a}{\sqrt N}, $$ where $a\approx0.5$ and depends mildly on the average click through rate.

From this a very rough estimate (maybe up to a factor of 2) for 95% confidence interval of log_loss evaluated on 10 million samples is $\pm 0.0003$

For the recent Kaggle CTR contest the final standings looks like this: 1 0.3791384 2 0.3803652 3 0.3806351 4 0.3810307

Assuming 10 million records in the test set, I believe that first place score is significantly better than the second, but difference between the second and the third place may not be significant.

  • $\begingroup$ This is a very interesting idea - thanks for sharing! I do worry about the assumption that the model is perfect. What if the predicted probabilities are not indicative of the actual frequencies of occurrence (aka the model is not "well calibrated")? Also, you mentioned a comparison of this approach to splitting into multiple independent test sets. How did that turn out? $\endgroup$
    – mbloem
    Oct 24, 2017 at 18:37

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