Fast Rates for Estimation Error and Oracle Inequalities for Model Selection

March, 2007
Report Number: 
Peter L. Bartlett

We consider complexity penalization methods for model selection. These methods aim to choose a model to optimally trade off estimation and approximation errors by minimizing the sum of an empirical risk term and a complexity penalty. It is well known that if we use a bound on the maximal deviation between empirical and true risks as a complexity penalty, then the risk of our choice is no more than the approximation error plus twice the complexity penalty. There are many cases, however, where complexity penalties like this give loose upper bounds on the estimation error. In particular, if we choose a function from a suitably simple convex function class with a strictly convex loss function, then the estimation error (the difference between the risk of the empirical risk minimizer and the minimal risk in the class) approaches zero at a faster rate than the maximal deviation between empirical and true risks. In this note, we address the question of whether it is possible to design a complexity penalized model selection method for these situations. We show that, provided the sequence of models is ordered by inclusion, in these cases we can use tight upper bounds on estimation error as a complexity penalty. Surprisingly, this is the case even in situations when the difference between the empirical risk and true risk (and indeed the error of any estimate of the approximation error) decreases much more slowly than the complexity penalty. We give an oracle inequality showing that the resulting model selection method chooses a function with risk no more than the approximation error plus a constant times the complexity penalty.

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