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J Cheminform. 2014 Jun 22;6:34. doi: 10.1186/1758-2946-6-34. eCollection 2014.

Using beta binomials to estimate classification uncertainty for ensemble models.

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Department of Life Sciences, Simulations Plus, Inc., 45205 10th Street West, Lancaster, CA 93534, USA.



Quantitative structure-activity (QSAR) models have enormous potential for reducing drug discovery and development costs as well as the need for animal testing. Great strides have been made in estimating their overall reliability, but to fully realize that potential, researchers and regulators need to know how confident they can be in individual predictions.


Submodels in an ensemble model which have been trained on different subsets of a shared training pool represent multiple samples of the model space, and the degree of agreement among them contains information on the reliability of ensemble predictions. For artificial neural network ensembles (ANNEs) using two different methods for determining ensemble classification - one using vote tallies and the other averaging individual network outputs - we have found that the distribution of predictions across positive vote tallies can be reasonably well-modeled as a beta binomial distribution, as can the distribution of errors. Together, these two distributions can be used to estimate the probability that a given predictive classification will be in error. Large data sets comprised of logP, Ames mutagenicity, and CYP2D6 inhibition data are used to illustrate and validate the method. The distributions of predictions and errors for the training pool accurately predicted the distribution of predictions and errors for large external validation sets, even when the number of positive and negative examples in the training pool were not balanced. Moreover, the likelihood of a given compound being prospectively misclassified as a function of the degree of consensus between networks in the ensemble could in most cases be estimated accurately from the fitted beta binomial distributions for the training pool.


Confidence in an individual predictive classification by an ensemble model can be accurately assessed by examining the distributions of predictions and errors as a function of the degree of agreement among the constituent submodels. Further, ensemble uncertainty estimation can often be improved by adjusting the voting or classification threshold based on the parameters of the error distribution. Finally, the profiles for models whose predictive uncertainty estimates are not reliable provide clues to that effect without the need for comparison to an external test set.


ANNE; Artificial neural network ensemble; Classification; Confidence; Error estimation; Predictive value; QSAR; Uncertainty

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