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Rectangular data

Rectangular data are the staple of statistical and machine learning models.  Rectangular data are multivariate cross-sectional data (i.e. not time-series or repeated measure) in which each column is a variable (feature), and each row is a case or record.

Likert Scale

A “likert scale” is used in self-report rating surveys to allow users to express an opinion or assessment of something on a gradient scale.  For example, a response could range from “agree strongly” through “agree somewhat” and “disagree somewhat” on to “disagree strongly.”  Two key decisions the survey designer faces are

  • How many gradients to allow, and

  • Whether to include a neutral midpoint

Dummy Variable

A dummy variable is a binary (0/1) variable created to indicate whether a case belongs to a particular category.  Typically a dummy variable will be derived from a multi-category variable. For example, an insurance policy might be residential, commercial or automotive, and there would be three dummy variables created:

Snowball Sampling

Snowball sampling is a form of sampling in which the selection of new sample subjects is suggested by prior subjects.  From a statistical perspective, the method is prone to high variance and bias, compared to random sampling. The characteristics of the initial subject may propagate through the sample to some degree, and a sample derived by starting with subject 1 may differ from that produced by by starting with subject 2, even if the resulting sample in both cases contains both subject 1 and subject 2.  However, …

Conditional Probability Word of the Week

QUESTION:  The rate of residential insurance fraud is 10% (one out of ten claims is fraudulent).  A consultant has proposed a machine learning system to review claims and classify them as fraud or no-fraud.  The system is 90% effective in detecting the fraudulent claims, but only 80% effective in correctly classifying the non-fraud claims (it mistakenly labels one in five as “fraud”).  If the system classifies a claim as fraudulent, what is the probability that it really is fraudulent?


Churn is a term used in marketing to refer to the departure, over time, of customers.  Subscribers to a service may remain for a long time (the ideal customer), or they may leave for a variety of reasons (switching to a competitor, dissatisfaction, credit card expires, customer moves, etc.).  A customer who leaves, for whatever reason, “churns.”

ROC Curve

The Receiver Operating Characteristics (ROC) curve is a measure of how well a statistical or machine learning model (or a medical diagnostic procedure) can distinguish between two classes, say 1’s and 0’s.  For example, fraudulent insurance claims (1’s) and non-fraudulent ones (0’s). It plots two quantities:



I used the term in my message about bagging and several people asked for a review of the bootstrap. Put simply, to bootstrap a dataset is to draw a resample from the data, randomly and with replacement.