I have recently been reading a lot on this site (@Aniko, @Dikran Marsupial, @Erik) and elsewhere about the problem of overfitting occuring with cross validation - (Smialowski et al 2010 Bioinformatics, Hastie, Elements of statistical learning). The suggestion is that any supervised feature selection (using correlation with class labels) performed outside of the model performance estimation using cross validation (or other model estimating method such as bootstrapping) may result in overfitting.
This seems unintuitive to me - surely if you select a feature set and then evaluate your model using only the selected features using cross validation, then you are getting an unbiased estimate of generalized model performance on those features (this assumes the sample under study are representive of the populatation)?
With this procedure one cannot of course claim an optimal feature set but can one report the performance of the selected feature set on unseen data as valid?
I accept that selecting features based on the entire data set may resuts in some data leakage between test and train sets. But if the feature set is static after initial selection, and no other tuning is being done, surely it is valid to report the cross-validated performance metrics?
In my case I have 56 features and 259 cases and so #cases > #features. The features are derived from sensor data.
Apologies if my question seems derivative but this seems an important point to clarify.
Edit: On implementing feature selection within cross validation on the data set detailed above (thanks to the answers below), I can confirm that selecting features prior to cross-validation in this data set introduced a significant bias. This bias/overfitting was greatest when doing so for a 3-class formulation, compared to as 2-class formulation. I think the fact that I used stepwise regression for feature selection increased this overfitting; for comparison purposes, on a different but related data set I compared a sequential forward feature selection routine performed prior to cross-validation against results I had previously obtained with feature selection within CV. The results between both methods did not differ dramatically. This may mean that stepwise regression is more prone to overfitting than sequential FS or may be a quirk of this data set.