# Introduction to nonparametric regression: Least squares vs. Nearest neighbors

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1 Introduction to nonparametric regression: Least squares vs. Nearest neighbors Patrick Breheny October 30 Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 1/16

2 Introduction For the remainder of the course, we will focus on nonparametric regression and classification The regression problem involves modeling how the expected value of a response y changes in response to changes in an explanatory variable x: E(y x) = f(x) Linear regression, as its name implies, assumes a linear relationship; namely, that f(x) = β 0 + β 1 x Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 2/16

3 Parametric vs. nonparametric approaches This reduction of a complicated function to a simple form with a small number of unknown parameters is very similar to the parametric approach to estimation and inference involving the unknown distribution function The nonparametric approach, in contrast, is to make as few assumptions about the regression function f as possible Instead, we will try to use the data as much as possible to learn about the potential shape of f allowing f to be very flexible, yet smooth Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 3/16

4 Simple local models One way to achieve this flexibility is by fitting a different, simple model separately at every point x 0 in much the same way that we used kernels to estimate density As with kernel density estimates, this is done using only those observations close to x 0 to fit the simple model As we will see, it is possible to extend many of the same kernel ideas we have already discussed to smoothly blend these local models to construct a smooth estimate ˆf of the relationship between x and y Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 4/16

5 Introduction Before we do so, however, let us get a general feel for the contrast between parametric and nonparametric classification by contrasting two simple, but very different, methods: the ordinary least squares regression model and the k-nearest neighbor prediction rule The linear model makes huge assumptions about the structure of the problem, but is quite stable Nearest neighbors is virtually assumption-free, but its results can be quite unstable Each method can be quite powerful in different settings and for different reasons Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 5/16

6 Simulation settings To examine which method is better in which setting, we will simulate data from a simple model in which y can take on one of two values: 1 or 1 The corresponding x values are derived from one of two settings: Setting 1: x values are drawn from a bivariate normal distribution with different means for y = 1 and y = 1 Setting 2: A mixture in which 10 sets of means for each class (1, 1) are drawn; x values are then drawn by randomly selecting a mean from the appropriate class and then generating a random bivariate normal observation with that mean A fair competition between the two methods is then how well they do at predicting whether a future observation is 1 or 1 given its x values Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 6/16

7 Linear model results Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 7/16

8 Linear model remarks The linear model seems to classify points reasonably in setting 1 In setting 2, on the other hand, there are some regions which seem questionable For example, in the lower left hand corner of the plot, does it really make sense to predict blue given that all of the nearby points are red? Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 8/16

9 Nearest neighbors Consider then a completely different approach in which we don t assume a model, a distribution, a likelihood, or anything about the problem: we just look at nearby points and base our prediction on the average of those points This approach is called the nearest-neighbor method, and is defined formally as ŷ(x) = 1 k x i N k (x) where N k (x) is the neighborhood of x defined by its k closest points in the sample y i, Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 9/16

10 Nearest neighbor results Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 10/16

11 Nearest neighbor remarks Nearest neighbor seems not to perform terribly well in setting 1, as its classification boundaries are unnecessarily complex and unstable On the other hand, the method seemed perhaps better than the linear model in setting 2, where a complex and curved boundary seems to fit the data better Furthermore, the choice of k plays a big role in the fit, and the optimal k might not be the same in settings 1 and 2 Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 11/16

12 Inference Introduction Of course, it is potentially misleading to judge whether a method is better simply because it fits the sample better What matters, of course, is how well its predictions generalize to new samples Thus, consider generating 100 data sets of size 200, fitting each model, and then measuring how well each method does at predicting 10,000 new, independent observations Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 12/16

13 Simulation results Black line = least squares; blue line = nearest neighbors Setting 1 Setting Misclassification Rate k Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 13/16

14 Remarks Introduction In setting 1, linear regression was always better than nearest neighbors In setting 2, nearest neighbors was usually better than linear regression However, it wasn t always better than linear regression when k was too big or too small, the nearest neighbors method performed poorly In setting 1, the bigger k was, the better; in setting 2, there was a Goldilocks value of k (about 25) that proved optimal in balancing the bias-variance tradeoff Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 14/16

15 Conclusions Thus, Fitting an ordinary linear model is rarely the best we can do On the other hand, nearest-neighbors is rarely stable enough to be ideal, even in modest dimensions, unless our sample size is very large (recall the curse of dimensionality) Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 15/16

16 Conclusions (cont d) These two methods stand on opposite sides of the methodology spectrum with regard to assumptions and structure The methods we will discuss for the remainder of the course involve bridging the gap between these two methods making linear regression more flexible, adding structure and stability to nearest neighbor ideas, or combining concepts from both As with kernel density estimation, the main theme that emerges is the need to apply methods that bring the right mix of flexibility and stability that is appropriate for the data Patrick Breheny STA 621: Nonparametric Statistics 16/16

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