Stretching the Effectiveness of MLE from Accuracy to Bias for Pairwise Comparisons

Jingyan Wang, Nihar B. Shah, R. Ravi

A number of applications (e.g., AI bot tournaments, sports, peer grading, crowdsourcing) use pairwise comparison data and the Bradley-Terry-Luce (BTL) model to evaluate a given collection of items (e.g., bots, teams, students, search results). Past work has shown that under the BTL model, the widely-used maximum-likelihood estimator (MLE) is minimax-optimal in estimating the item parameters, in terms of the mean squared error. However, another important desideratum for designing estimators is fairness. In this work, we consider fairness modeled by the notion of bias in statistics. We show that the MLE incurs a suboptimal rate in terms of bias. We then propose a simple modification to the MLE, which "stretches" the bounding box of the maximum-likelihood optimizer by a small constant factor from the underlying ground truth domain. We show that this simple modification leads to an improved rate in bias, while maintaining minimax-optimality in the mean squared error. In this manner, our proposed class of estimators provably improves fairness represented by bias without loss in accuracy.

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