Cost-sensitive boosting algorithms: Do we really need them?

Nikolaos Nikolaou*, Narayanan Edakunni, Meelis Kull, Peter Flach, Gavin Brown

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)
373 Downloads (Pure)


We provide a unifying perspective for two decades of work on cost-sensitive Boosting algorithms. When analyzing the literature 1997–2016, we find 15 distinct cost-sensitive variants of the original algorithm; each of these has its own motivation and claims to superiority—so who should we believe? In this work we critique the Boosting literature using four theoretical frameworks: Bayesian decision theory, the functional gradient descent view, margin theory, and probabilistic modelling. Our finding is that only three algorithms are fully supported—and the probabilistic model view suggests that all require their outputs to be calibrated for best performance. Experiments on 18 datasets across 21 degrees of imbalance support the hypothesis—showing that once calibrated, they perform equivalently, and outperform all others. Our final recommendation—based on simplicity, flexibility and performance—is to use the original Adaboost algorithm with a shifted decision threshold and calibrated probability estimates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-384
Number of pages26
JournalMachine Learning
Issue number2
Early online date2 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016

Structured keywords

  • Jean Golding


  • Boosting
  • Class imbalance
  • Classifier calibration
  • Cost-sensitive


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