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J Biomed Inform. 2020 Nov 18:103621. doi: 10.1016/j.jbi.2020.103621. Online ahead of print.
The use of machine learning to guide clinical decision making has the potential to worsen existing health disparities. Several recent works frame the problem as that of algorithmic fairness, a framework that has attracted considerable attention and criticism. However, the appropriateness of this framework is unclear due to both ethical as well as technical considerations, the latter of which include trade-offs between measures of fairness and model performance that are not well-understood for predictive models of clinical outcomes. To inform the ongoing debate, we conduct an empirical study to characterize the impact of penalizing group fairness violations on an array of measures of model performance and group fairness. We repeat the analysis across multiple observational healthcare databases, clinical outcomes, and sensitive attributes. We find that procedures that penalize differences between the distributions of predictions across groups induce nearly-universal degradation of multiple performance metrics within groups. On examining the secondary impact of these procedures, we observe heterogeneity of the effect of these procedures on measures of fairness in calibration and ranking across experimental conditions. Beyond the reported trade-offs, we emphasize that analyses of …
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