Worst-Case Analysis for Randomly Collected Data

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

AuthorFeedback Bibtex MetaReview Paper Review Supplemental


Justin Chen, Gregory Valiant, Paul Valiant


We introduce a framework for statistical estimation that leverages knowledge of how samples are collected but makes no distributional assumptions on the data values. Specifically, we consider a population of elements [n]={1,...,n} with corresponding data values x1,...,xn. We observe the values for a "sample" set A \subset [n] and wish to estimate some statistic of the values for a "target" set B \subset [n] where B could be the entire set. Crucially, we assume that the sets A and B are drawn according to some known distribution P over pairs of subsets of [n]. A given estimation algorithm is evaluated based on its "worst-case, expected error" where the expectation is with respect to the distribution P from which the sample A and target sets B are drawn, and the worst-case is with respect to the data values x1,...,xn. Within this framework, we give an efficient algorithm for estimating the target mean that returns a weighted combination of the sample values–-where the weights are functions of the distribution P and the sample and target sets A, B--and show that the worst-case expected error achieved by this algorithm is at most a multiplicative pi/2 factor worse than the optimal of such algorithms. The algorithm and proof leverage a surprising connection to the Grothendieck problem. We also extend these results to the linear regression setting where each datapoint is not a scalar but a labeled vector (xi,yi). This framework, which makes no distributional assumptions on the data values but rather relies on knowledge of the data collection process via the distribution P, is a significant departure from the typical statistical estimation framework and introduces a uniform analysis for the many natural settings where membership in a sample may be correlated with data values, such as when individuals are recruited into a sample through their social networks as in "snowball/chain" sampling or when samples have chronological structure as in "selective prediction".