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Forward-Backward Selection with Early Dropping

Giorgos Borboudakis, Ioannis Tsamardinos; 20(8):1−39, 2019.


Forward-backward selection is one of the most basic and commonly-used feature selection algorithms available. It is also general and conceptually applicable to many different types of data. In this paper, we propose a heuristic that significantly improves its running time, while preserving predictive performance. The idea is to temporarily discard the variables that are conditionally independent with the outcome given the selected variable set. Depending on how those variables are reconsidered and reintroduced, this heuristic gives rise to a family of algorithms with increasingly stronger theoretical guarantees. In distributions that can be faithfully represented by Bayesian networks or maximal ancestral graphs, members of this algorithmic family are able to correctly identify the Markov blanket in the sample limit. In experiments we show that the proposed heuristic increases computational efficiency by about 1-2 orders of magnitude, while selecting fewer or the same number of variables and retaining predictive performance. Furthermore, we show that the proposed algorithm and feature selection with LASSO perform similarly when restricted to select the same number of variables, making the proposed algorithm an attractive alternative for problems where no (efficient) algorithm for LASSO exists.

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