T-SNE Visualization and R

It is common in research to want to visualize data in order to search for patterns. When the number of features increases, this can often become even more important. Common tools for visualizing numerous features include principal component analysis and linear discriminant analysis. Not only do these tools work for visualization they can also be beneficial in dimension reduction.

However, the available tools for us are not limited to these two options. Another option for achieving either of these goals is t-Distributed Stochastic Embedding. This relative young algorithm (2008) is the focus of the post. We will explain what it is and provide an example using a simple dataset from the Ecdat package in R.

t-sne Defined

t-sne is a nonlinear dimension reduction visualization tool. Essentially what it does is identify observed clusters. However, it is not a clustering algorithm because it reduces the dimensions (normally to 2) for visualizing. This means that the input features are not longer present in their original form and this limits the ability to make inference. Therefore, t-sne is often used for exploratory purposes.

T-sne non-linear characteristic is what makes it often appear to be superior to PCA, which is linear. Without getting too technical t-sne takes simultaneously a global and local approach to mapping points while PCA can only use a global approach.

The downside to t-sne approach is that it requires a large amount of calculations. The calculations are often pairwise comparisons which can grow exponential in large datasets.

Initial Packages

We will use the “Rtsne” package for the analysis, and we will use the “Fair” dataset from the “Ecdat” package. The “Fair” dataset is data collected from people who had cheated on their spouse. We want to see if we can find patterns among the unfaithful people based on their occupation. Below is some initial code.


Dataset Preparation

To prepare the data, we first remove in rows with missing data using the “na.omit” function. This is saved in a new object called “train”. Next, we change or outcome variable into a factor variable. The categories range from 1 to 9

  1. Farm laborer, day laborer,
  2. Unskilled worker, service worker,
  3. Machine operator, semiskilled worker,
  4. Skilled manual worker, craftsman, police,
  5. Clerical/sales, small farm owner,
  6. Technician, semiprofessional, supervisor,
  7. Small business owner, farm owner, teacher,
  8. Mid-level manager or professional,
  9. Senior manager or professional.

Below is the code.


Visualization Preparation

Before we do the analysis we need to set the colors for the different categories. This is done with the code below.


We can now do are analysis. We will use the “Rtsne” function. When you input the dataset you must exclude the dependent variable as well as any other factor variables. You also set the dimensions and the perplexity. Perplexity determines how many neighbors are used to determine the location of the datapoint after the calculations. Verbose just provides information during the calculation. This is useful if you want to know what progress is being made. max_iter is the number of iterations to take to complete the analysis and check_duplicates checks for duplicates which could be a problem in the analysis. Below is the code.

## Performing PCA
## Read the 601 x 6 data matrix successfully!
## OpenMP is working. 1 threads.
## Using no_dims = 2, perplexity = 30.000000, and theta = 0.500000
## Computing input similarities...
## Building tree...
## Done in 0.05 seconds (sparsity = 0.190597)!
## Learning embedding...
## Iteration 1450: error is 0.280471 (50 iterations in 0.07 seconds)
## Iteration 1500: error is 0.279962 (50 iterations in 0.07 seconds)
## Fitting performed in 2.21 seconds.

Below is the code for making the visual.

text(tsne$Y,labels=train$occupation,col = colors[train$occupation])
legend(25,5,legend=unique(train$occupation),col = colors,,pch=c(1))


You can see that there are clusters however, the clusters are all mixed with the different occupations. What this indicates is that the features we used to make the two dimensions do not discriminant between the different occupations.


T-SNE is an improved way to visualize data. This is not to say that there is no place for PCA anymore. Rather, this newer approach provides a different way of quickly visualizing complex data without the limitations of PCA.

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