100% classification accuracy considered harmful: The normalized information transfer factor explains the accuracy paradox Articles uri icon

publication date

  • January 2014


  • 1


  • 9

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1932-6203


  • The most widely spread measure of performance, accuracy, suffers from a paradox: predictive models with a given level of accuracy may have greater predictive power than models with higher accuracy. Despite optimizing classification error rate, high accuracy models may fail to capture crucial information transfer in the classification task. We present evidence of this behavior by means of a combinatorial analysis where every possible contingency matrix of 2, 3 and 4 classes classifiers are depicted on the entropy triangle, a more reliable information-theoretic tool for classification assessment. Motivated by this, we develop from first principles a measure of classification performance that takes into consideration the information learned by classifiers. We are then able to obtain the entropy-modulated accuracy (EMA), a pessimistic estimate of the expected accuracy with the influence of the input distribution factored out, and the normalized information transfer factor (NIT), a measure of how efficient is the transmission of information from the input to the output set of classes. The EMA is a more natural measure of classification performance than accuracy when the heuristic to maximize is the transfer of information through the classifier instead of classification error count. The NIT factor measures the effectiveness of the learning process in classifiers and also makes it harder for them to "cheat" using techniques like specialization, while also promoting the interpretability of results. Their use is demonstrated in a mind reading task competition that aims at decoding the identity of a video stimulus based on magnetoencephalography recordings. We show how the EMA and the NIT factor reject rankings based in accuracy, choosing more meaningful and interpretable classifiers. © 2014 Valverde-Albacete, Peláez-Moreno.


  • classification accuracy; classifier; combinatorial analysis; contingency table; controlled study; entropy modulated accuracy; error; information; learning; magnetoencephalography; mathematical phenomena; mental task; model; normalized information transfer factor; prediction; theory; videorecording; visual stimulation; algorithms; humans; models; theoretical