A Behavioral Investigation of Dimensionality Reduction


A cornucopia of dimensionality reduction techniques have emerged over the past decade, leaving data analysts with a wide variety of choices for reducing their data. Means of evaluating and comparing low-dimensional embeddings useful for visualization, however, are very limited. When proposing a new technique it is common to simply show rival embeddings side-by-side and let human judgment determine which embedding is superior. This study investigates whether such human embedding evaluations are reliable, i.e., whether humans tend to agree on the quality of an embedding. We also investigate what types of embedding structures humans appreciate a priori. Our results reveal that, although experts are reasonably consistent in their evaluation of embeddings, novices generally disagree on the quality of an embedding. We discuss the impact of this result on the way dimensionality reduction researchers should present their results, and on applicability of dimensionality reduction outside of machine learning.

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