Learning from a Biased Sample



The empirical risk minimization approach to data-driven decision making assumes that we can learn a decision rule from training data drawn under the same conditions as the ones we want to deploy it in. However, in a number of settings, we may be concerned that our training sample is biased, and that some groups (characterized by either observable or unobservable attributes) may be under- or over-represented relative to the general population; and in this setting empirical risk minimization over the training set may fail to yield rules that perform well at deployment. We propose a model of sampling bias called Γ-biased sampling, where observed covariates can affect the probability of sample selection arbitrarily much but the amount of unexplained variation in the probability of sample selection is bounded by a constant factor. Applying the distributionally robust optimization framework, we propose a method for learning a decision rule that minimizes the worst-case risk incurred under a family of test distributions that can generate the training distribution under Γ-biased sampling. We apply a result of Rockafellar and Uryasev to show that this problem is equivalent to an augmented convex risk minimization problem. We give statistical guarantees for learning a model that is robust to sampling bias via the method of sieves, and propose a deep learning algorithm whose loss function captures our robust learning target. We empirically validate our proposed method in simulations and a case study on ICU length of stay prediction. Joint work with Roshni Sahoo and Lihua Lei.

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