Fen Xia, Tie-yan Liu, Hang Li
This paper is concerned with the consistency analysis on listwise ranking methods. Among various ranking methods, the listwise methods have competitive performances on benchmark datasets and are regarded as one of the state-of-the-art approaches. Most listwise ranking methods manage to optimize ranking on the whole list (permutation) of objects, however, in practical applications such as information retrieval, correct ranking at the top k positions is much more important. This paper aims to analyze whether existing listwise ranking methods are statistically consistent in the top-k setting. For this purpose, we define a top-k ranking framework, where the true loss (and thus the risks) are defined on the basis of top-k subgroup of permutations. This framework can include the permutation-level ranking framework proposed in previous work as a special case. Based on the new framework, we derive sufficient conditions for a listwise ranking method to be consistent with the top-k true loss, and show an effective way of modifying the surrogate loss functions in existing methods to satisfy these conditions. Experimental results show that after the modifications, the methods can work significantly better than their original versions.