Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 30 (NIPS 2017)

*Jeremiah Liu, Brent Coull*

This work constructs a hypothesis test for detecting whether an data-generating function $h: \real^p \rightarrow \real$ belongs to a specific reproducing kernel Hilbert space $\mathcal{H}_0$, where the structure of $\mathcal{H}_0$ is only partially known. Utilizing the theory of reproducing kernels, we reduce this hypothesis to a simple one-sided score test for a scalar parameter, develop a testing procedure that is robust against the mis-specification of kernel functions, and also propose an ensemble-based estimator for the null model to guarantee test performance in small samples. To demonstrate the utility of the proposed method, we apply our test to the problem of detecting nonlinear interaction between groups of continuous features. We evaluate the finite-sample performance of our test under different data-generating functions and estimation strategies for the null model. Our results revealed interesting connection between notions in machine learning (model underfit/overfit) and those in statistical inference (i.e. Type I error/power of hypothesis test), and also highlighted unexpected consequences of common model estimating strategies (e.g. estimating kernel hyperparameters using maximum likelihood estimation) on model inference.

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