Data Reduction

Attribute Subset Selection: Data sets for analysis may contain hundreds of attributes, many of which may be irrelevant to the mining task or redundant. For example, if the task is to classify customers as to whether or not they are likely to purchase a popular new CD at All Electronics when notified of a sale, attributes such as the customer’s telephone number are likely to be irrelevant, unlike attributes such as age or music taste.

Although it may be possible for a domain expert to pick out some of the useful attributes, this can be a difficult and time-consuming task, especially when the behavior of the data is not well known (hence, a reason behind its analysis!). Leaving out relevant attributes or keeping irrelevant attributes may be detrimental, causing confusion for the mining algorithm employed. This can result in discovered patterns of poor quality. In addition, the added volume of irrelevant or redundant attributes can slow down the mining process.

Attribute subset selection6 reduces the data set size by removing irrelevant or redundant attributes (or dimensions). The goal of attribute subset selection is to find a minimum set of attributes such that the resulting probability distribution of the data classes is as close as possible to the original distribution obtained using all attributes. Mining on a reduced set of attributes has an additional benefit. It reduces the number of attributes appearing in the discovered patterns, helping to make the patterns easier to understand.

For n attributes, there are 2n possible subsets. An exhaustive search for the optimal subset of attributes can be prohibitively expensive, especially as n and the number of data classes increase. Therefore, heuristic methods that explore a reduced search space are commonly used for attribute subset selection. These methods are typically greedy in that, while searching through attribute space, they always make what looks to be the best choice at the time. Their strategy is to make a locally optimal choice in the hope that this will lead to a globally optimal solution. Such greedy methods are effective in practice and may come close to estimating an optimal solution.

The “best” (and “worst”) attributes are typically determined using tests of statistical significance, which assume that the attributes are independent of one another. Many other attribute evaluation measures can be used, such as the information gain measure used in building decision trees for classification.7

Basic heuristic methods of attribute subset selection include the following techniques, some of which are illustrated in Figure 2.15.

1. Stepwise forward selection: The procedure starts with an empty set of attributes as the reduced set. The best of the original attributes is determined and added to the reduced set. At each subsequent iteration or step, the best of the remaining original attributes is added to the set.

2. Stepwise backward elimination: The procedure starts with the full set of attributes. At each step, it removes the worst attribute remaining in the set.

3. Combination of forward selection and backward elimination: The stepwise forward selection and backward elimination methods can be combined so that, at each step, the procedure selects the best attribute and removes the worst from among the remaining attributes.

Decision tree induction: Decision tree algorithms, such as ID3, C4.5, and CART, were originally intended for classification. Decision tree induction constructs a flow chart like structure where each internal (non leaf) node denotes a test on an attribute, each branch corresponds to an outcome of the test, and each external (leaf) node denotes a class prediction. At each node, the algorithm chooses the “best” attribute to partition the data into individual classes.

When decision tree induction is used for attribute subset selection, a tree is constructed from the given data. All attributes that do not appear in the tree are assumed to be irrelevant. The set of attributes appearing in the tree form the reduced subset of attributes.