Correlation, determination, and prediction error – Probably Overthinking It


This tweet appeared in my feed not too long ago:

I wrote about this matter in Elements of Data Science Notebook 9, the place I counsel that utilizing Pearson’s coefficient of correlation, often denoted ρ, to summarize the connection between two variables is problematic as a result of:

  1. Correlation solely quantifies the linear relationship between variables; if the connection is non-linear, correlation tends to underestimate it.
  2. Correlation doesn’t quantify the “energy” of the connection when it comes to slope, which is commonly extra essential in observe.

For a proof of both of these factors, see the discussion in Notebook 9. However that tweet and the responses acquired me pondering, and now I believe there are much more causes correlation isn’t an awesome statistic:

  1. It’s exhausting to interpret as a measure of predictive energy.
  2. It makes the connection between variables sound extra spectacular than it’s.

For example, I’ll quantify the connection between SAT scores and IQ assessments. I do know this can be a contentious matter; folks have robust emotions in regards to the SAT, IQ, and the results of utilizing standardized assessments for school admissions.

I selected this instance as a result of it’s a matter folks care about, and I believe the evaluation I current can contribute to the dialogue.

However an identical evaluation applies in any area the place we use a correlation to quantify the energy of a relationship between two variables.

SAT scores and IQ

In response to Frey and Detterman, “Scholastic Assessment or g? The relationship between the Scholastic Assessment Test and general cognitive ability“, the correlation between SAT scores and basic intelligence (g) is 0.82.

That’s only one research, and in the event you learn the paper, you may need questions in regards to the methodology. However for now I’ll take this estimate at face worth. For those who discover one other supply that stories a distinct correlation, be happy to plug in one other worth and run my evaluation once more.

In the notebook, I generate pretend datasets with the identical imply and commonplace deviation because the SAT and the IQ, and with a correlation of 0.82.

Then I take advantage of them to compute

  • The coefficient of dedication, R²,
  • The imply absolute error (MAE),
  • Root imply squared error (RMSE), and
  • Imply absolute proportion error (MAPE).

Within the SAT-IQ instance, the correlation is 0.82, which is a robust correlation, however I believe it sounds stronger than it’s.

R² is 0.66, which implies we are able to scale back variance by 66%. However that additionally makes the connection sound stronger than it’s.

Utilizing SAT scores to foretell IQ, we are able to scale back MAE by 44%, we are able to scale back RMSE by 42%, and we are able to scale back MAPE additionally by 42%.

Admittedly, these are substantial reductions. If you need to guess somebody’s IQ (for some cause) your guesses shall be extra correct if you understand their SAT scores.

However any of those reductions in error is considerably extra modest than the correlation may lead you to imagine.

The identical sample holds over the vary of potential correlations. The next determine reveals R² and the fractional enchancment in RMSE as a operate of correlation:

For all values besides Zero and 1, R² is lower than correlation and the discount in RMSE is even lower than that.


Correlation is a problematic statistic as a result of it sounds extra spectacular than it’s.

Coefficient of dedication, R², is slightly higher as a result of it has a extra pure interpretation: proportion discount in variance. However lowering variance it often not what we care about.

A greater choice is to decide on a measure of error that’s significant in context, probably MAE, RMSE, or MAPE.

Which considered one of these is most significant relies on the fee operate. Does the price of being flawed rely on absolutely the error, squared error, or proportion error? In that case, that ought to information your alternative.

One benefit of RMSE is that we don’t want the information to compute it; we solely want the variance of the dependent variable and both ρ or R². So in the event you learn a paper that stories ρ, you’ll be able to compute the corresponding discount in RMSE.

However any measure of predictive error is extra significant than reporting correlation or R².

The details of my analysis are in this Jupyter notebook.


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