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2.2.2 Issues Related to Applications

Data quality issues can also be considered from an application viewpoint as expressed by the statement “data is of high quality if it is suitable for its intended use.” This approach to data quality has proven quite useful, particu- Iarly in business and industry. A similar viewpoint is also present in statistics and the experimental sciences, with their emphasis on the careful design of ex- periments to collect the data relevant to a specific hypothesis. As with quality

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44 Chapter 2 Data

issues at the measurement and data collection level, there are many issues that are specific to particular applications and fields. Again, we consider only a few of the general issues.

Timeliness Some data starts to age as soon as it has been collected. In particular, if the data provides a snapshot of some ongoing phenomenon or process, such as the purchasing behavior of customers or Web browsing pat- terns, then this snapshot represents reality for only a limited time. If the data is out of date, then so are the models and patterns that are based on it.

Relevance The available data must contain the information necessary for the application. Consider the task of building a model that predicts the acci- dent rate for drivers. If information about the age and gender of the driver is omitted, then it is likely that the model will have limited accuracy unless this information is indirectly available through other attributes.

Making sure that the objects in a data set are relevant is also challenging. A common problem is sampling bias, which occurs when a sample does not contain different types of objects in proportion to their actual occurrence in the population. For example, survey data describes only those who respond to the survey. (Other aspects of sampling are discussed further in Section 2.3.2.) Because the results of a data analysis can reflect only the data that is present, sampling bias will typically result in an erroneous analysis.

Knowledge about the Data Ideally, data sets are accompanied by doc- umentation that describes different aspects of the data; the quality of this documentation can either aid or hinder the subsequent analysis. For example, if the documentation identifies several attributes as being strongly related, these attributes are likely to provide highly redundant information, and we may decide to keep just one. (Consider sales tax and purchase price.) If the documentation is poor, however, and fails to tell us, for example, that the missing values for a particular field are indicated with a -9999, then our analy- sis of the data may be faulty. Other important characteristics are the precision of the data, the type of features (nominal, ordinal, interval, ratio), the scale of measurement (e.g., meters or feet for length), and the origin of the data.

2.3 Data Preprocessing

In this section, we address the issue of which preprocessing steps should be applied to make the data more suitable for data mining. Data preprocessing



2.3 Data Preprocessing 45

is a broad area and consists of a number of different strategies and techniques that are interrelated in complex ways. We will present some of the most important ideas and approaches, and try to point out the interrelationships among them. Specifically, we will discuss the following topics:

o Aggregation

o Sampling

o Dimensionality reduction

o Feature subset selection o Feature creation

o Discretization and binarization

o Variable transformation

Roughly speaking, these items fall into two categories: selecting data ob- jects and attributes for the analysis or creating/changing the attributes. In both cases the goal is to improve the data mining analysis with respect to time, cost, and quality. Details are provided in the following sections.

A quick note on terminology: In the following, we sometimes use synonyms for attribute, such as feature or variable, in order to follow common usage.

2.3.L Aggregation

Sometimes “less is more” and this is the case with aggregation, the combining of two or more objects into a single object. Consider a data set consisting of transactions (data objects) recording the daily sales of products in various store locations (Minneapolis, Chicago, Paris, …) for different days over the course of a year. See Table 2.4. One way to aggregate transactions for this data set is to replace all the transactions of a single store with a single storewide transaction. This reduces the hundreds or thousands of transactions that occur daily at a specific store to a single daily transaction, and the number of data objects is reduced to the number of stores.

An obvious issue is how an aggregate transaction is created; i.e., how the values of each attribute are combined across all the records corresponding to a particular location to create the aggregate transaction that represents the sales of a single store or date. Quantitative attributes, such as price, are typically aggregated by taking a sum or an average. A qualitative attribute, such as item, can either be omitted or summarized as the set of all the items that were sold at that location.

The data in Table 2.4 can also be viewed as a multidimensional array, where each attribute is a dimension. FYom this viewpoint, aggregation is the



Table2.4. Data set containing information about customer purchases.

46 Chapter 2 Data

Ttansaction ID Item I Store Location

L01r23 r0rl23 t0rr24

Watch Battery Shoes

: Chicago Chicago



: 0e106/04 0e/06104 0s106104

process of eliminating attributes, such as the type of item, or reducing the number of values for a particular attribute; e.g., reducing the possible values for date from 365 days to 12 months. This type of aggregation is commonly used in Online Analytical Processing (OLAP), which is discussed further in Chapter 3.

There are several motivations for aggregation. First, the smaller data sets resulting from data reduction require less memory and processing time, and hence, aggregation may permit the use of more expensive data mining algo- rithms. Second, aggregation can act as a change ofscope or scale by providing a high-level view of the data instead of a low-level view. In the previous ex- ample, aggregating over store locations and months gives us a monthly, per store view of the data instead of a daily, per item view. Finally, the behavior of groups of objects or attributes is often more stable than that of individual objects or attributes. This statement reflects the statistical fact that aggregate quantities, such as averages or totals, have less variability than the individ- ual objects being aggregated. For totals, the actual amount of variation is larger than that of individual objects (on average), but the percentage of the variation is smaller, while for means, the actual amount of variation is less than that of individual objects (on average). A disadvantage of aggregation is the potential loss of interesting details. In the store example aggregating over months loses information about which day of the week has the highest sales.

Example 2.7 (Australian Precipitation). This example is based on pre- cipitation in Australia from the period 1982 to 1993. Figure 2.8(a) shows a histogram for the standard deviation of average monthly precipitation for 3,030 0.5′ by 0.5′ grid cells in Australia, while Figure 2.8(b) shows a histogram for the standard deviation of the average yearly precipitation for the same lo- cations. The average yearly precipitation has less variability than the average monthly precipitation. All precipitation measurements (and their standard deviations) are in centimeters.


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