Change is Hard: A Closer Look at Subpopulation Shift



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Machine learning models often perform poorly on subgroups that are underrepresented in the training data. Yet, little is understood on the variation in mechanisms that cause subpopulation shifts, and how algorithms generalize across such diverse shifts at scale. In this work, we provide a fine-grained analysis of subpopulation shift. We first propose a unified framework that dissects and explains common shifts in subgroups. We then establish a comprehensive benchmark of 20 stateof-the-art algorithms evaluated on 12 real-world datasets in vision, language, and healthcare domains. With results obtained from training over 10,000 models, we reveal intriguing observations for future progress in this space. First, existing algorithms only improve subgroup robustness over certain types of shifts but not others. Moreover, while current algorithms rely on group-annotated validation data for model selection, we find that a simple selection criterion based on worst-class accuracy is surprisingly effective even without any group information. Finally, unlike existing works that solely aim to improve worst-group accuracy (WGA), we demonstrate the fundamental tradeoff between WGA and other important metrics, highlighting the need to carefully choose testing metrics. Code and data are available at: https: //

This work was presented at ICML 2023.

Please cite our work using the BibTeX below.

  title={Change is Hard: A Closer Look at Subpopulation Shift},
  author={Yang, Yuzhe and Zhang, Haoran and Katabi, Dina and Ghassemi, Marzyeh},
  booktitle={International Conference on Machine Learning},
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