An Empirical Comparison of Bias Reduction Methods on Real-World Problems in High-Stakes Policy Settings

05/13/2021 ∙ by Hemank Lamba, et al. ∙ 17

Applications of machine learning (ML) to high-stakes policy settings – such as education, criminal justice, healthcare, and social service delivery – have grown rapidly in recent years, sparking important conversations about how to ensure fair outcomes from these systems. The machine learning research community has responded to this challenge with a wide array of proposed fairness-enhancing strategies for ML models, but despite the large number of methods that have been developed, little empirical work exists evaluating these methods in real-world settings. Here, we seek to fill this research gap by investigating the performance of several methods that operate at different points in the ML pipeline across four real-world public policy and social good problems. Across these problems, we find a wide degree of variability and inconsistency in the ability of many of these methods to improve model fairness, but post-processing by choosing group-specific score thresholds consistently removes disparities, with important implications for both the ML research community and practitioners deploying machine learning to inform consequential policy decisions.

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