Scalable Techniques for Mining Causal Structures
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Mining for association rules in market basket data has proved a fruitful area of research. Measures such as conditional probability (confidence) and correlation have been used to infer rules of the form “the existence of item A implies the existence of item B.” However, such rules indicate only a statistical relationship between A and B. They do not specify the nature of the relationship: whether the presence of A causes the presence of B, or the converse, or some other attribute or phenomenon causes both to appear together. In applications, knowing such causal relationships is extremely useful for enhancing understanding and effecting change. While distinguishing causality from correlation is a truly difficult problem, recent work in statistics and Bayesian learning provide some avenues of attack. In these fields, the goal has generally been to learn complete causal models, which are essentially impossible to learn in large-scale data mining applications with a large number of variables.
In this paper, we consider the problem of determining casual relationships, instead of mere associations, when mining market basket data. We identify some problems with the direct application of Bayesian learning ideas to mining large databases, concerning both the scalability of algorithms and the appropriateness of the statistical techniques, and introduce some initial ideas for dealing with these problems. We present experimental results from applying our algorithms on several large, real-world data sets. The results indicate that the approach proposed here is both computationally feasible and successful in identifying interesting causal structures. An interesting outcome is that it is perhaps easier to infer the lack of causality than to infer causality, information that is useful in preventing erroneous decision making.
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