Do Feature Attribution Methods Correctly Attribute Features?

27 Apr 2021  ·  Yilun Zhou, Serena Booth, Marco Tulio Ribeiro, Julie Shah ·

Feature attribution methods are exceedingly popular in interpretable machine learning. They aim to compute the attribution of each input feature to represent its importance, but there is no consensus on the definition of "attribution", leading to many competing methods with little systematic evaluation. The lack of attribution ground truth further complicates evaluation, which has to rely on proxy metrics. To address this, we propose a dataset modification procedure such that models trained on the new dataset have ground truth attribution available. We evaluate three methods: saliency maps, rationales, and attention. We identify their deficiencies and add a new perspective to the growing body of evidence questioning their correctness and reliability in the wild. Our evaluation approach is model-agnostic and can be used to assess future feature attribution method proposals as well. Code is available at

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