I've run 3 different machine learning algorithms on 10 different datasets, generating an accuracy on each one. My hypothesis is that two of the algorithms are consistently better than the third. I've noticed that the accuracies aren't normally distributed and so I'm looking to use non-parametric tests.

My initial idea on how to assess any difference is to run Kruskal-Wallis on each dataset, to see if there is a significant difference in the accuracies from each algorithm. As I'd be running K-W 10 times, would I need to account for this with a multiple comparison correction method?

If on any of the datasets I get a significant result, I'd run a post-hoc analysis. From what I've seen there aren't many simple (in R) non-parametric post-hoc techniques, and so I would run 3 pairwise Mann-Whitney U-tests between each algorithm's scores.

My questions are:

  1. Is running 10 K-W tests the correct approach for the first part? If so would I need to correct for multiple tests?
  2. Is my post-hoc analysis a good approach?

1 Answer 1


Let's step back and look at what the data would look like. From what you describe, 3 algorithms (i.e. groups or treatments) and 10 datasets (i.e. subjects). In this case, you have a a within-subjects design (i.e. repeated measures) with one factor. One way to represent this is like this:

df <- data.frame(dataset = rep(seq(10), 3), 
                 algorithm = rep(c("ML1","ML2","ML3"), each=10), 
                 Accuracy = runif(30))
> df
   dataset algorithm   Accuracy
1        1       ML1 0.28757752
2        2       ML1 0.78830514
3        3       ML1 0.40897692
4        4       ML1 0.88301740
5        5       ML1 0.94046728
6        6       ML1 0.04555650
7        7       ML1 0.52810549
8        8       ML1 0.89241904
9        9       ML1 0.55143501
10      10       ML1 0.45661474
11       1       ML2 0.95683335
12       2       ML2 0.45333416
13       3       ML2 0.67757064
14       4       ML2 0.57263340
15       5       ML2 0.10292468
16       6       ML2 0.89982497
17       7       ML2 0.24608773
18       8       ML2 0.04205953
19       9       ML2 0.32792072
20      10       ML2 0.95450365
21       1       ML3 0.88953932
22       2       ML3 0.69280341
23       3       ML3 0.64050681
24       4       ML3 0.99426978
25       5       ML3 0.65570580
26       6       ML3 0.70853047
27       7       ML3 0.54406602
28       8       ML3 0.59414202
29       9       ML3 0.28915974
30      10       ML3 0.14711365

You will typically see examples that have 'subject' as a label. In your case, your 'subjects' are 'datasets'. If you can assume normality, you would do repeated-measures ANOVA. However, you state you know the accuracies are not normally distributed and you naturally want a non-parametric method. Your dataset is also balanced (10 samples/group) so we can use the Friedman test (which essentially is a nonparametric repeated-measures ANOVA).

If you get a significant p-value from the test, you would do post-hoc analysis with a pairwise paired Wilcoxon test with some sort of correction (e.g. bonferroni, holm, etc.). You would not use Mann-Whitney because you have 'paired/repeated measures' data.

Lastly, you probably want the effect size any significant differences. This also would use the wilcoxon test. In R there is no function I can recall right now but the equation is very simple:


Where Z is the Z-score and N is the sample size (between the two groups being compared). You can get this Z-score using the wilcoxsign_test from the coin package.

Using the above data, this can be done in R with the following. Please note, the above data was just randomly generated so there is no significance. This is just for demonstrating some code:

# Friedman Test
friedman.test(Accuracy ~ algorithm|dataset, data=df)

# Post-hoc tests with 'bonferroni correction'
with(df, pairwise.wilcox.test(Accuracy, algorithm, p.adj="bonferroni", paired=T))

# Get Z-score for calculating effect-size
with(df, wilcoxsign_test(Accuracy ~ factor(algorithm)|factor(dataset), 
                         data=df[algorithm == "ML1" | algorithm == "ML2",]))

# Calculate effect size, in this case Z = -0.2548, two groups is 20 datasets
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the detailed reply. One thing I forgot to mention in my original post was the fact that I ran each ML algorithm on each dataset 30 times, does that change the test required? Just for my understanding, if I'd run the 3 ML algorithms on 1 dataset, 30 times each, what test would that require? As there would be repeated measures (as multiple treatments) but only 1 subject. $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2014 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ Could you explain the 30 times on 1 dataset? Are you applying some sort of bootstrapping? $\endgroup$
    – cdeterman
    Dec 12, 2014 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ For each ML algorithm, on each dataset, I ran the 10-fold cross-validation process 30 times. This was because I'm using highly stochastic ML techniques. My results then consists of 30 runs, of 3 ML algorithms on 10 datasets. Each run accuracy is the cross-validated accuracy. Also the splitting of the dataset into 10 folds was done independently for each ML algorithm on each dataset, i.e. fold1 from dataset1 was different for ML1 and ML2. Does this have any impact on the study being a paired one? $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2014 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ That approach will result in lower power which will already be a potential issue with non-parametric methods. I'm glad you used CV, however, given that this is a simulation study I would suggest creating your 10 splits 30 times and use the same splits across algorithms (that way you still have paired data). You can then consider each CV iteration (1-30) a sample and apply the approach I describe above. This will have greater power to distinguish between algorithms. $\endgroup$
    – cdeterman
    Dec 12, 2014 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ Ah I see. For future work simulations I will run paired studies then. Unfortunately however I have these current results without any time to rerun in a paired setup, in this case which test should be used? Would it be a non-parametric 2-way ANOVA as I've got 2 groups (datasets and ML algorithms) which aren't paired? $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2014 at 13:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.