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Missing Data (part two)

Nov 11, 2011

In Missing Data (part one) I outlined an approach for in-filling missing data when applying an existing Principal Components Analysis (PCA) model. Let us now consider when this approach might be expected to fail. Recall that missing data estimation results in a least-squares problem with solution:

xb = –xgR21R11-1

In our short courses, I advise students to be wary any time a matrix inverse is used, and this case is no exception. Inverses are defined only for matrices of full rank, and may be unstable for nearly rank-deficient matrices. So under what conditions might we expect R11 to be rank deficient? Recall that R11 is the part of IPP‘ that applies to the variables which we want to replace. Problems arise when the variables to be replaced form a group that are perfectly correlated with each other but not with any of the remaining variables. When this happens the variables will either be 1: included as a group in the PCA model (if enough PCs are retained) or 2: excluded as a group (too few PCs retained). In case 1, R11 is rank deficient and the inverse isn’t defined. In case 2, R11 is just I, but the loadings of the correlated group are zero, so the R12 part of the solution is 0. In either case, it makes sense that a solution isn’t possible–what information would it be based on?

With real data, of course, it is highly unlikely that R11 will be rank deficient to within numerical precision (or that R12 will be zero). But it certainly may happen that R11 is near rank deficient, in which case the estimates of the missing variables will not be very good. Fortunately, in most systems the measured variables are somewhat correlated with each other and the method can be employed.

In their 1995 paper, Nomikos and MacGregor estimated the value of missing variables using a truncated Classical Least Squares (CLS) formulation. The PCA loadings are fit to the available data, leaving out the missing portions, to estimate scores which are then used to estimate missing values. This reduces to:

xb = xg(PgPg‘)-1PgPb

where Pb and Pg refer to the part of the PCA model loadings for the missing (bad) and available (good) data, respectively. In 1996 Nelson, Taylor and MacGregor noted that this method was equivalent to the method in our 1991 paper but offered no proof. The proof can be found in “Refitting PCA, MPCA and PARAFAC Models to Incomplete Data Records” from FACSS, 2007.

So how does this work in practice? The topmost figure shows the estimation error for each of the 20 variables in the melter data based on a 4 PC models with mean-centering. The model was estimated with every other sample and tested on the other samples. The estimation error is shown in units of Relative Standard Deviation (RSD) to the raw data. Thus, the variables with error near 1.0 aren’t being predicted any better than just using the mean value, while the variables with error below 0.2 are tracking quite well. An example is shown in the middle figure, which shows temperature sensor number 8 actual (blue line) and predicted (red x) for the test set as a function sample number (time).

The reason for the large differences in ability to replace variables in this data set is, of course, directly related to how independent the variables are. A graphic illustration of this can be produced with the PLS_Toolbox corrmap function, which produced the third figure. The correlation matrix for the temperatures is colored red where there is high positive correlation, blue for negative correlation, and white for no correlation. It can be seen that variables with low estimation error (e.g. 7, 8, 17, 18) are strongly correlated with other variables, whereas variables with high estimation error (e.g. 2, 12) are not correlated strongly with any other variables.

To summarize, we’ve shown that missing variables can be imputed based on an existing PCA model and the available measurements. This success of this approach depends upon the degree to which the missing variables are correlated with available variables, as might be expected. In the next installment of this Missing Data series, we’ll explore using regression models, particularly Partial Least Squares (PLS) to replace missing data.


P. Nomikos and J.F. MacGregor, “Multivariate SPC Charts for Monitoring Batch Processes,” Technometrics, 37(1), pps. 41-58, 1995.

P.R.C. Nelson, P.A. Taylor and J.F. MacGregor, “Missing data method in PCA and PLS: Score calculations with incomplete observations,” Chemometrics & Intell. Lab. Sys., 35(1), pps. 45-65, 1996.

B.M. Wise, “Re-fitting PCA, MPCA and PARAFAC Models to Incomplete Data Records,” FACSS, Memphis, TN, October, 2007.