1.13. Feature selection¶
The classes in the
sklearn.feature_selection module can be used
for feature selection/dimensionality reduction on sample sets, either to
improve estimators’ accuracy scores or to boost their performance on very
1.13.1. Removing features with low variance¶
VarianceThreshold is a simple baseline approach to feature selection.
It removes all features whose variance doesn’t meet some threshold.
By default, it removes all zero-variance features,
i.e. features that have the same value in all samples.
As an example, suppose that we have a dataset with boolean features, and we want to remove all features that are either one or zero (on or off) in more than 80% of the samples. Boolean features are Bernoulli random variables, and the variance of such variables is given by
so we can select using the threshold
.8 * (1 - .8):
>>> from sklearn.feature_selection import VarianceThreshold >>> X = [[0, 0, 1], [0, 1, 0], [1, 0, 0], [0, 1, 1], [0, 1, 0], [0, 1, 1]] >>> sel = VarianceThreshold(threshold=(.8 * (1 - .8))) >>> sel.fit_transform(X) array([[0, 1], [1, 0], [0, 0], [1, 1], [1, 0], [1, 1]])
VarianceThreshold has removed the first column,
which has a probability \(p = 5/6 > .8\) of containing a zero.
1.13.2. Univariate feature selection¶
Univariate feature selection works by selecting the best features based on
univariate statistical tests. It can be seen as a preprocessing step
to an estimator. Scikit-learn exposes feature selection routines
as objects that implement the
SelectKBestremoves all but the \(k\) highest scoring features
SelectPercentileremoves all but a user-specified highest scoring percentage of features
GenericUnivariateSelectallows to perform univariate feature selection with a configurable strategy. This allows to select the best univariate selection strategy with hyper-parameter search estimator.
For instance, we can perform a \(\chi^2\) test to the samples to retrieve only the two best features as follows:
>>> from sklearn.datasets import load_iris >>> from sklearn.feature_selection import SelectKBest >>> from sklearn.feature_selection import chi2 >>> X, y = load_iris(return_X_y=True) >>> X.shape (150, 4) >>> X_new = SelectKBest(chi2, k=2).fit_transform(X, y) >>> X_new.shape (150, 2)
The methods based on F-test estimate the degree of linear dependency between two random variables. On the other hand, mutual information methods can capture any kind of statistical dependency, but being nonparametric, they require more samples for accurate estimation.
Feature selection with sparse data
Beware not to use a regression scoring function with a classification problem, you will get useless results.
1.13.3. Recursive feature elimination¶
Given an external estimator that assigns weights to features (e.g., the
coefficients of a linear model), the goal of recursive feature elimination (
is to select features by recursively considering smaller and smaller sets of
features. First, the estimator is trained on the initial set of features and
the importance of each feature is obtained either through any specific attribute
feature_importances_) or callable. Then, the least important
features are pruned from current set of features. That procedure is recursively
repeated on the pruned set until the desired number of features to select is
RFECV performs RFE in a cross-validation loop to find the optimal
number of features.
Recursive feature elimination: A recursive feature elimination example showing the relevance of pixels in a digit classification task.
Recursive feature elimination with cross-validation: A recursive feature elimination example with automatic tuning of the number of features selected with cross-validation.
1.13.4. Feature selection using SelectFromModel¶
SelectFromModel is a meta-transformer that can be used alongside any
estimator that assigns importance to each feature through a specific attribute (such as
feature_importances_) or via an
importance_getter callable after fitting.
The features are considered unimportant and removed if the corresponding
importance of the feature values are below the provided
threshold parameter. Apart from specifying the threshold numerically,
there are built-in heuristics for finding a threshold using a string argument.
Available heuristics are “mean”, “median” and float multiples of these like
“0.1*mean”. In combination with the
threshold criteria, one can use the
max_features parameter to set a limit on the number of features to select.
For examples on how it is to be used refer to the sections below.
184.108.40.206. L1-based feature selection¶
Linear models penalized with the L1 norm have
sparse solutions: many of their estimated coefficients are zero. When the goal
is to reduce the dimensionality of the data to use with another classifier,
they can be used along with
to select the non-zero coefficients. In particular, sparse estimators useful
for this purpose are the
Lasso for regression, and
>>> from sklearn.svm import LinearSVC >>> from sklearn.datasets import load_iris >>> from sklearn.feature_selection import SelectFromModel >>> X, y = load_iris(return_X_y=True) >>> X.shape (150, 4) >>> lsvc = LinearSVC(C=0.01, penalty="l1", dual=False).fit(X, y) >>> model = SelectFromModel(lsvc, prefit=True) >>> X_new = model.transform(X) >>> X_new.shape (150, 3)
With SVMs and logistic-regression, the parameter C controls the sparsity: the smaller C the fewer features selected. With Lasso, the higher the alpha parameter, the fewer features selected.
Classification of text documents using sparse features: Comparison of different algorithms for document classification including L1-based feature selection.
L1-recovery and compressive sensing
For a good choice of alpha, the Lasso can fully recover the exact set of non-zero variables using only few observations, provided certain specific conditions are met. In particular, the number of samples should be “sufficiently large”, or L1 models will perform at random, where “sufficiently large” depends on the number of non-zero coefficients, the logarithm of the number of features, the amount of noise, the smallest absolute value of non-zero coefficients, and the structure of the design matrix X. In addition, the design matrix must display certain specific properties, such as not being too correlated.
There is no general rule to select an alpha parameter for recovery of
non-zero coefficients. It can by set by cross-validation
LassoLarsCV), though this may lead to
under-penalized models: including a small number of non-relevant
variables is not detrimental to prediction score. BIC
LassoLarsIC) tends, on the opposite, to set high values of
Reference Richard G. Baraniuk “Compressive Sensing”, IEEE Signal Processing Magazine  July 2007 http://users.isr.ist.utl.pt/~aguiar/CS_notes.pdf
220.127.116.11. Tree-based feature selection¶
Tree-based estimators (see the
sklearn.tree module and forest
of trees in the
sklearn.ensemble module) can be used to compute
impurity-based feature importances, which in turn can be used to discard irrelevant
features (when coupled with the
>>> from sklearn.ensemble import ExtraTreesClassifier >>> from sklearn.datasets import load_iris >>> from sklearn.feature_selection import SelectFromModel >>> X, y = load_iris(return_X_y=True) >>> X.shape (150, 4) >>> clf = ExtraTreesClassifier(n_estimators=50) >>> clf = clf.fit(X, y) >>> clf.feature_importances_ array([ 0.04..., 0.05..., 0.4..., 0.4...]) >>> model = SelectFromModel(clf, prefit=True) >>> X_new = model.transform(X) >>> X_new.shape (150, 2)
1.13.5. Sequential Feature Selection¶
Forward-SFS is a greedy procedure that iteratively finds the best new feature
to add to the set of selected features. Concretely, we initially start with
zero feature and find the one feature that maximizes a cross-validated score
when an estimator is trained on this single feature. Once that first feature
is selected, we repeat the procedure by adding a new feature to the set of
selected features. The procedure stops when the desired number of selected
features is reached, as determined by the
Backward-SFS follows the same idea but works in the opposite direction:
instead of starting with no feature and greedily adding features, we start
with all the features and greedily remove features from the set. The
direction parameter controls whether forward or backward SFS is used.
In general, forward and backward selection do not yield equivalent results. Also, one may be much faster than the other depending on the requested number of selected features: if we have 10 features and ask for 7 selected features, forward selection would need to perform 7 iterations while backward selection would only need to perform 3.
SFS differs from
SelectFromModel in that it does not
require the underlying model to expose a
attribute. It may however be slower considering that more models need to be
evaluated, compared to the other approaches. For example in backward
selection, the iteration going from
m features to
m - 1 features using k-fold
cross-validation requires fitting
m * k models, while
RFE would require only a single fit, and
SelectFromModel always just does a single
fit and requires no iterations.
1.13.6. Feature selection as part of a pipeline¶
Feature selection is usually used as a pre-processing step before doing
the actual learning. The recommended way to do this in scikit-learn is
to use a
clf = Pipeline([ ('feature_selection', SelectFromModel(LinearSVC(penalty="l1"))), ('classification', RandomForestClassifier()) ]) clf.fit(X, y)
In this snippet we make use of a
to evaluate feature importances and select the most relevant features.
RandomForestClassifier is trained on the
transformed output, i.e. using only relevant features. You can perform
similar operations with the other feature selection methods and also
classifiers that provide a way to evaluate feature importances of course.
Pipeline examples for more details.