Minimax-optimal Inference from Partial Rankings

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 27 (NIPS 2014)

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Bruce Hajek, Sewoong Oh, Jiaming Xu


This paper studies the problem of rank aggregation under the Plackett-Luce model. The goal is to infer a global ranking and related scores of the items, based on partial rankings provided by multiple users over multiple subsets of items. A question of particular interest is how to optimally assign items to users for ranking and how many item assignments are needed to achieve a target estimation error. Without any assumptions on how the items are assigned to users, we derive an oracle lower bound and the Cram\'er-Rao lower bound of the estimation error. We prove an upper bound on the estimation error achieved by the maximum likelihood estimator, and show that both the upper bound and the Cram\'er-Rao lower bound inversely depend on the spectral gap of the Laplacian of an appropriately defined comparison graph. Since random comparison graphs are known to have large spectral gaps, this suggests the use of random assignments when we have the control. Precisely, the matching oracle lower bound and the upper bound on the estimation error imply that the maximum likelihood estimator together with a random assignment is minimax-optimal up to a logarithmic factor. We further analyze a popular rank-breaking scheme that decompose partial rankings into pairwise comparisons. We show that even if one applies the mismatched maximum likelihood estimator that assumes independence (on pairwise comparisons that are now dependent due to rank-breaking), minimax optimal performance is still achieved up to a logarithmic factor.