Topic Model or Topic Twaddle? Re-evaluating Semantic Interpretability Measures

NAACL 2021  ·  Caitlin Doogan, Wray Buntine ·

When developing topic models, a critical question that should be asked is: How well will this model work in an applied setting? Because standard performance evaluation of topic interpretability uses automated measures modeled on human evaluation tests that are dissimilar to applied usage, these models{'} generalizability remains in question. In this paper, we probe the issue of validity in topic model evaluation and assess how informative coherence measures are for specialized collections used in an applied setting. Informed by the literature, we propose four understandings of interpretability. We evaluate these using a novel experimental framework reflective of varied applied settings, including human evaluations using open labeling, typical of applied research. These evaluations show that for some specialized collections, standard coherence measures may not inform the most appropriate topic model or the optimal number of topics, and current interpretability performance validation methods are challenged as a means to confirm model quality in the absence of ground truth data.

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