Feature Ranking with Recursive Feature Elimination

Feature Ranking with Recursive Feature Elimination

Feature selection is an important task for any machine learning application. This is especially crucial when the data in question has many features. The optimal number of features also leads to improved model accuracy.

Feature selection is an important task for any machine learning application. This is especially crucial when the data in question has many features. The optimal number of features also leads to improved model accuracy. Obtaining the most important features and the number of optimal features can be obtained via feature importance or feature ranking. In this piece, we’ll explore feature ranking.

Recursive Feature Elimination

The first item needed for recursive feature elimination is an estimator; for example, a linear model or a decision tree model.

These models have coefficients for linear models and feature importances in decision tree models. In selecting the optimal number of features, the estimator is trained and the features are selected via the coefficients, or via the feature importances. The least important features are removed. This process is repeated recursively until the optimal number of features is obtained.

Application in Sklearn

Scikit-learn makes it possible to implement recursive feature elimination via the sklearn.feature_selection.**RFE**class. The class takes the following parameters:

  • estimator — a machine learning estimator that can provide features importances via the coef_ or feature_importances_ attributes.
  • n_features_to_select — the number of features to select. Selects half if it's not specified.
  • step — an integer that indicates the number of features to be removed at each iteration, or a number between 0 and 1 to indicate the percentage of features to remove at each iteration.

Once fitted, the following attributes can be obtained:

  • ranking_ — the ranking of the features.
  • n_features_ — the number of features that have been selected.
  • support_ — an array that indicates whether or not a feature was selected.


As noted earlier, we’ll need to work with an estimator that offers a feature_importance_s attribute or a coeff_ attribute. Let’s work through a quick example. The dataset has 13 features—we’ll work on getting the optimal number of features.

import pandas as pd

df = pd.read_csv(‘heart.csv’)

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Let’s obtain the X and y features.

X = df.drop([‘target’],axis=1)
y = df[‘target’]

We’ll split it into a testing and training set to prepare for modeling:

from sklearn.model_selection import train_test_split
X_train, X_test, y_train, y_test = train_test_split(X, y,random_state=0)

Let’s get a couple of imports out of the way:

  • Pipeline — since we’ll perform some cross-validation. It’s best practice in order to avoid data leakage.
  • RepeatedStratifiedKFold — for repeated stratified cross-validation.
  • cross_val_score — for evaluating the score on cross-validation.
  • GradientBoostingClassifier — the estimator we’ll use.
  • numpy — so that we can compute the mean of the scores.
from sklearn.pipeline import Pipeline
from sklearn.model_selection import RepeatedStratifiedKFold
from sklearn.model_selection import cross_val_score
from sklearn.feature_selection import RFE
import numpy as np
from sklearn.ensemble import GradientBoostingClassifier

The first step is to create an instance of the RFE class while specifying the estimator and the number of features you’d like to select. In this case, we’re selecting 6:

rfe = RFE(estimator=GradientBoostingClassifier(), n_features_to_select=6)

Next, we create an instance of the model we’d like to use:

model = GradientBoostingClassifier()

We’ll use a Pipeline to transform the data. In the Pipeline we specify rfe for the feature selection step and the model that’ll be used in the next step.

We then specify a RepeatedStratifiedKFold with 10 splits and 5 repeats. The stratified K fold ensures that the number of samples from each class is well balanced in each fold. RepeatedStratifiedKFold repeats the stratified K fold the specified number of times, with a different randomization in each repetition.

pipe = Pipeline([(‘Feature Selection’, rfe), (‘Model’, model)])
cv = RepeatedStratifiedKFold(n_splits=10, n_repeats=5, random_state=36851234)
n_scores = cross_val_score(pipe, X_train, y_train, scoring=’accuracy’, cv=cv, n_jobs=-1)

The next step is to fit this pipeline to the dataset.

pipe.fit(X_train, y_train)

With that in place, we can check the support and the ranking. The support indicates whether or not a feature was chosen.

array([ True, False,  True, False,  True, False, False,  True, False,True, False,  True,  True])

We can put that into a dataframe and check the result.


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We can also check the relative rankings.

rf_df = pd.DataFrame(rfe.ranking_,index=X.columns,columns=[‘Rank’]).sort_values(by=’Rank’,ascending=True)


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