Machine Learning

, Volume 80, Issue 2–3, pp 213–243 | Cite as

Stability and model selection in k-means clustering

  • Ohad ShamirEmail author
  • Naftali Tishby


Clustering stability methods are a family of widely used model selection techniques for data clustering. Their unifying theme is that an appropriate model should result in a clustering which is robust with respect to various kinds of perturbations. Despite their relative success, not much is known theoretically on why or when do they work, or even what kind of assumptions they make in choosing an ‘appropriate’ model. Moreover, recent theoretical work has shown that they might ‘break down’ for large enough samples. In this paper, we focus on the behavior of clustering stability using k-means clustering. Our main technical result is an exact characterization of the distribution to which suitably scaled measures of instability converge, based on a sample drawn from any distribution in ℝ n satisfying mild regularity conditions. From this, we can show that clustering stability does not ‘break down’ even for arbitrarily large samples, at least for the k-means framework. Moreover, it allows us to identify the factors which eventually determine the behavior of clustering stability. This leads to some basic observations about what kind of assumptions are made when using these methods. While often reasonable, these assumptions might also lead to unexpected consequences.


Clustering Model selection Stability Statistical learning theory 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Computer Science and EngineeringThe Hebrew UniversityJerusalemIsrael
  2. 2.School of Computer Science and Engineering, and Interdisciplinary Center for Neural ComputationThe Hebrew UniversityJerusalemIsrael

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