Ties Matter: Modifying Kendall's Tau for Modern Metric Meta-Evaluation

Daniel Deutsch, George Foster, Markus Freitag

Kendall's tau is frequently used to meta-evaluate how well machine translation (MT) evaluation metrics score individual translations. Its focus on pairwise score comparisons is intuitive but raises the question of how ties should be handled, a gray area that has motivated different variants in the literature. We demonstrate that, in settings like modern MT meta-evaluation, existing variants have weaknesses arising from their handling of ties, and in some situations can even be gamed. We propose a novel variant that gives metrics credit for correctly predicting ties, as well as an optimization procedure that automatically introduces ties into metric scores, enabling fair comparison between metrics that do and do not predict ties. We argue and provide experimental evidence that these modifications lead to fairer Kendall-based assessments of metric performance.

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