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How I Analysed 1.6 Million Articles for a Data Science Competition

Read about our experiences with NLP.
Author: Kim, Data Science  
   Last updated: August 7, 2017

If you follow you will have seen their recent launch of two data science challenges. They were supported by UK government agencies - including MI5 and MI6.

These challenges were designed to bring the brightest minds in data science together to solve real world problems.

The first challenge involved classifying types of vehicles from aerial photos. The second, and my chosen subject centered on classifying crisis documents based on their topics.

The Challenge

We were given a dataset of news articles and documents that relate to a humanitarian crisis.

The intention was to use this sample to build a model that can determine the topics for future documents so that they can be classified and used to detect signs of growing instability.

The main challenges to this problem were:

  • Dealing with multi-label classification of complex and sometimes ambiguous articles
  • Using historical documents to predict themes of future documents
  • Working with text data, or NLP (Natural Language Processing), which is one of the most challenging and interesting fields of Artificial Intelligence.

Preparing The Datasets

My solution was built in Python and using the packages spaCy for natural language processing and scikit-learn for machine learning.

The training collection contained approximately 1.6 million documents and each article could be labelled with one or more topics, e.g. article X could be about ‘war’, ‘Middle East’ and ‘politics’.

The collection also contained articles and topics that were not of interest e.g. ‘sports’ and ‘lifestyle’. In total, 160 topics were of interest to the challenge.

Processing 1.6 Million Documents

The first step in any analysis is to understand our data, but the size of the dataset presented a challenge.

With more than 1.6 million articles to process, we were dealing with data volumes far larger than what could be efficiently ingested on a single laptop.

One generally accepted approach is to try sample a representative subset of articles, which would be of a much more manageable size. For example, removing topics and articles from the dataset not relevant to the challenge. A quick histogram plot of the remaining articles revealed an unequal representation of the topics and 14 topics did not even contain any articles.

data science competition histogram

Training a model with too few documents for a given topic will typically generate noise and will not generalize well to future documents.

Additional data for topics with fewer than 200 documents were naively inferred from the text. E.g. searching for the label ‘activism’ within the text and label it if it is present. The NY Times API was used for additional documents for topics that could not be inferred from the documents.

Converting Documents into Data

The second step is turning articles into numbers so that we can build a statistical model.

This process is called feature extraction, and in our case, we are building word vectors.

Classic NLP techniques such as tokenization, extraction of named entities and lemmatization of each article were performed. I also removed punctuation, stop words, white space, numbers, symbols, very common and uncommon words and types of part-of-speech tags from each article.

The idea is that by removing these from the articles we can focus on the important words instead.

I then applied a term frequency-inverse document frequency (tf-idf) weight to unigram, bigram and trigram sizes of words in the document. This weight is a measure of how important a word is to the document in the collection. The result is a high dimensional sparse matrix using the tf-idf scores per word as features.

data science competition chart

Creating Suitable Models

The data is then partitioned into a training set to train the model and a test set to evaluate it. This also can be done k-folds time for further model evaluation.

The model I felt best suited for this type of data was Support Vector Machines (SVM), a supervised machine learning classification method. SVM can handle large datasets as in this case we had 10,000+ features. I evaluated the performance of other supervised learning methods, but they did not cope so well with the number of dimensions in the training data.

A linear SVM was used in combination with the OneVsRestClassifier function in the scikit-learn package. The OneVsRestClassifier can efficiently fit one label per classifier and outputs are easy to interpret.

The model was evaluated using the micro F1 score on the test set, which is an overall measure of a model’s accuracy but it considers both the precision and recall. A grid search algorithm was used to find the best parameters for the model that returned the highest F1 score.

I retrained the model on the entire dataset using the best parameters and ran it against the unseen test set provided.

The predicted results for each article in the test set contained a series of 0s and 1s for the 160 topics, where a 1 indicated presence of the topic.

This file was uploaded onto the competition’s platform where a score was automatically generated onto the public leaderboard for 30% of the data. A private leaderboard was not displayed until the end of the competition.

The Results

Overall, I achieved a top 20 ranking out of 579 entries for my first data science competition.

I think with hindsight, I would look into other approaches to improve this score and overall ranking such as, investigating different feature vectors such as word embeddings.

What this challenge has shown me is that real world data is not always clean and structured and majority of the time is spent preparing the dataset (pre-processing), otherwise it is garbage in garbage out!

Let us know your thoughts on this data science competition. Should you wish to learn more about our data toolset, download this excel power guide ⇓

Topics: Competition, Data Science, Big Data

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