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How To Get Baseline Results And Why They Matter

In my courses and guides, I teach the preparation of a baseline result before diving into spot checking algorithms.

A student of mine recently asked:

If a baseline is not calculated for a problem, will it make the results of other algorithms questionable?

He went on to ask:

If other algorithms do not give better accuracy than the baseline, what lesson should we take from it? Does it indicate that the data set does not have prediction capability?

These are great questions, they get to the heart of why we create a baseline in the first place and the filtering power it provides.

In this post, you will learn why we create a baseline prediction result, how to create a baseline in general and for specific problem types, and how you can use it to inform you on the data you have available and the algorithms you are using.

Baseline Machine Learning Results

Baseline Machine Learning Results
Photo by tracy the astonishing, some rights reserved

Finding Data You Can Model

When you are practicing machine learning, each problem is unique. You very likely have not seen it before and you cannot know what algorithms to use, what data attributes will be useful or even whether the problem can be effectively modeled.

I personally find this the most exciting time.

If you are in this situation, you are very likely collecting the data together yourself from disparate sources and selecting attributes that you think might be valuable. Feature selection and feature engineering will be required.

During this process, you need to get some idea that the problem that you are iteratively trying to define and gather data for provides a useful base for making predictions.

A Useful Point For Comparison

You need to spot check algorithms on the problem to see if you have a useful basis for modeling your prediction problem. But how do you know the results are any good?

You need a basis for comparison of results. You need a meaningful reference point to which to compare.

Once you start collecting results from different machine learning algorithms, a baseline result can tell you whether a change is adding value.

It is so simple, yet so powerful. Once you have a baseline, you can add or change the data attributes, the algorithms you are trying or the parameters of the algorithms, and know whether you have improved your approach or solution to the problem.

Calculate a Baseline Result

There are common ways that you can use to calculate a baseline result.

A baseline result is the simplest possible prediction. For some problems, this may be a random result, and in others in may be the most common prediction.

  • Classification: If you have a classification problem, you can select the class that has the most observations and use that class as the result for all predictions. In Weka this is called ZeroR. If the number of observations is equal for all classes in your training dataset, you can select a specific class or enumerate each class and see which gives the better result in your test harness.
  • Regression: If you are working on a regression problem, you can use a central tendency measure as the result for all predictions, such as the mean or the median.
  • Optimization: If you are working on an optimization problem, you can use a fixed number of random samples in the domain.

It can be a valuable use of your time to brainstorm all of the simplest possible results that you can test for your problem, and then go ahead and evaluate them. The results can be a very effective filtering method. If more advanced modeling methods cannot outperform simple central tendencies then you know you have work to do, most likely better defining or reframing the problem.

The accuracy score you use matters. You must select the accuracy score you plan to use before you calculate your baseline. The score must be related and inform the question you set out to answer by working on the problem in the first place.

If you are working on a classification problem, you may want to look at the Kappa statistic, which gives you an accuracy score that is normalized by the baseline. The baseline accuracy is 0 and scores above zero show an improvement over the baseline.

Compare Results to the Baseline

It is OK if your baseline is a poor result. It may indicate a particular difficulty with the problem or it may mean that your algorithms have a lot of room for improvement.

It does matter if you cannot get an accuracy better than your baseline. It suggests that the problem may be difficult.

You may need to collect more or different data from which to model. You may need to look into using different and perhaps more powerful machine learning algorithms or algorithm configurations. Ultimately, after rounds of these types of changes, you may have a problem that is resistant to prediction and may need to be re-framed.

Action Steps

Your action step for this post is to start investigating your next data problem with a baseline from which you can compare all results.

If you are already working on a problem, include a baseline result and use that to interpret all other results.

Share your results, what is your problem and what baseline are you using?

43 Responses to How To Get Baseline Results And Why They Matter

  1. Avatar
    hizy November 26, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

    i would like to seek for your help,
    i currently hybridize to different algorithm to handle data security in cryptography.
    my code works perfectly as i want.
    But i do not know how to compare the hbride algorithm and each of the algorihm i combine
    because i would like to present the comparative result in tabular form of graphycal form.
    thanks for your assistance

    • Avatar
      Jason Brownlee November 27, 2016 at 10:21 am #

      Sorry, I don’t know about the hbrige algorithm.

      Best of luck with your algorithm comparison.

  2. Avatar
    David Ravnsborg June 26, 2017 at 12:53 pm #

    This is good, but I think you meant “disparate sources” rather than “desperate sources” 🙂

  3. Avatar
    Marj October 12, 2017 at 2:32 am #

    Sorry, but I still does not understand how to get the baseline.
    I am working with emotion classifications. I have 2 classes: stress and disgust. I am using two different target functions: 1) stimulus used to elicit the emotion and 2) survey responses of individuals. For the former, I have balanced class, but the latter my class are imbalanced (120 for stress and 87 for disgust). How can I compute the baseline?

    • Avatar
      Jason Brownlee October 12, 2017 at 5:34 am #

      What is the problem exactly?

    • Avatar
      Oliver Price February 4, 2018 at 2:57 am #

      Is it common to use the current state-of-the-art as the baseline?

      • Avatar
        Jason Brownlee February 4, 2018 at 5:10 am #

        Generally baseline methods are very simple, like the zero rule algorithm (mean or mode outcome).

    • Avatar
      BP April 17, 2020 at 9:38 am #

      For each group, your baseline would be to predict the most frequent class. For example predicting stress for each sample would give you 120 correct predictions and 87 incorrect predictions. You can compute the accuracy using those numbers. The idea is to see if you can build a model that is better than this base prediction

      • Avatar
        Jason Brownlee April 17, 2020 at 1:29 pm #

        Right on!

        • Avatar
          Nora May 16, 2020 at 1:20 am #

          I have ratings from three Time points, I decided to use the first time point as a baseline in a logistic regression. I used the rating change between time 2 and 3 as the predictor of my categorical DV.

          how should I report the results of the regression? If I wanted to look at the overall model evaluation, which likelihood ratio tests should I report?

          • Avatar
            Jason Brownlee May 16, 2020 at 6:15 am #

            I don’t follow sorry. I don’t feel like I can give you useful advice.

            Perhaps discuss with your research advisor.

  4. Avatar
    Bram November 19, 2017 at 6:08 am #

    Hi, I have a question. You write: “Classification: If you have a classification problem, you can select the class that has the most observations and use that class as the result for all predictions.”. I have 955 instances, male or female. The distribution is not equal. There are 495 females and 460 men. Would this give me a baseline of (495/955)*100 = 51.83. So, a baseline of 52% for predicting gender. Is this correct?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Avatar
      Jason Brownlee November 19, 2017 at 11:11 am #

      Correct Bram!

      • Avatar
        Roverflow March 21, 2018 at 6:20 pm #

        Hi Jason,

        Let’s say that we are dealing with a Fraud detection test. Then, there are other measures important (I guess sensitivity for example, because we really want to capture the people that commit fraud).

        If the classes are like this:
        -> Fraud YES (3%)
        -> Fraud NO (97%)

        Then the “majority” class make no sense as baseline (it is then 97%). So what can we use a baseline in this kind of situations? Or is it still the 97%.

        Thanks a lot!

        • Avatar
          Jason Brownlee March 22, 2018 at 6:20 am #

          Predicting NO for everything is a good baseline model to beat.

          Accuracy is useless on this problem, F1, Kappa, logloss and similar would be better measures.

        • Avatar
          Secil Sozuer November 17, 2019 at 5:27 am #

          In addition, in your problem, there is imbalanced dataset issue. You might want to use SMOTE to tackle this issue

          • Avatar
            Jason Brownlee November 17, 2019 at 7:16 am #

            Great suggestion.

          • Avatar
            Tom Weichle June 4, 2021 at 5:37 pm #

            Hi Jason, Secil brought up an interesting suggestion to consider using SMOTE to address the issue of class imbalance. Suppose we perform SMOTE and oversample the minority class in the training dataset.

            This results in equal class distribution in the resampled training dataset:

            Proportion of label “0” in over-sampled data 0.5
            Proportion of label “1” in over-sampled data 0.5

            In this situation, what should be used to calculate the baseline result since we have an equal class distribution? Would the fact they we have resampled the training dataset affect how the baseline result is calculated?

          • Avatar
            Jason Brownlee June 5, 2021 at 5:28 am #

            Baseline performance on the problem would be calculated on a raw dataset and a chosen metric, no resampling.

    • Avatar
      Panos Terlegkas October 25, 2018 at 10:56 am #

      Of the test set or train set you calculate the baseline? I can use the same technique for multiclass problems ?

      • Avatar
        Tom W. January 19, 2020 at 11:01 am #

        Panos, I was wondering the same thing.

        Jason, can you please clarify if baseline is calculated on the training or testing set? Thanks!

        • Avatar
          Jason Brownlee January 20, 2020 at 8:34 am #

          Baseline in performance is calculated on a hold out test set.

  5. Avatar
    Purushottam April 9, 2018 at 6:13 pm #

    Hello Sir,

    Let say probability of any crime is 1%. Using accuracy as a metric, what would be a good choice for a baseline accuracy score that the new model would want to outperform?

    Thanks in advanced

  6. Avatar
    Manish Sharma May 20, 2018 at 3:52 pm #

    Hi Jason,

    I am new to data science and is using R.

    I am working on classification problem i.e target variable is Loan Staus in Y and N.

    The training data set has this target variable but test data set does not have. The evaluation metric is Accuracy.

    I will follow the approach as below:

    1) data pre processing and feature engineering on train and test data set.
    2) then combining the train and test
    3) then spilt the combined data into train and test
    4) build the model and check accuracy on spilted test data set.

    Now my question is..

    A) how to deal with missing target variable in test data set.

    B) if I go by imputing it with mode(Y in this case) of train data traget variable then it gives me 81:19 prop.table in combined data set.
    Will it not give rise to imbalanced data set problem.

    C) Does doing so will not create a chance of overfitting.

    D) how to use random generator that u described above.

    Kindly reply ASAP…

    • Avatar
      Jason Brownlee May 21, 2018 at 6:27 am #

      I would recommend developing and evaluating models with the training dataset, choose a final model and make predictions on the test dataset.

      Here the test dataset is not really a test dataset, it is “unknown” data for which to must make a prediction.

  7. Avatar
    Hamda slimi September 17, 2018 at 8:00 pm #

    I’m tackling a prediction problem from a different perspective previously researchers used classification to predict tweets credibility but in my case i’m using regression. Since i’m the first one to do so i’m unable to find a baseline to which i can compare the viability of my model.

    I tested a variety of linear and non-linear regression models and found that random forest yielded the best results with an out of bag score of 89%.

    However, i can not find a way to create a baseline that would enable me to validate my model.

    so my question is how to create a baseline for random forest and with what metric would i compare the results (R-square, RMSE, OOB)

  8. Avatar
    LC November 21, 2018 at 7:15 am #

    I’ve been scouring your entire website while working on a class project. Thanks for the incredibly helpful practical recommendations and clear explanations. Didn’t want to wait till after finishing my project to say your site is the single most helpful resource I’ve found online.

    • Avatar
      Jason Brownlee November 21, 2018 at 7:55 am #

      Thanks, I’m glad to hear that the tutorials are useful!

  9. Avatar
    MICHELLE December 7, 2018 at 8:56 am #

    How do you write a discussion section on a baseline survey. A hypothesis is non existent in a baseline study…right? The data has been analyzed. I am just confuse about the hypothesis part in the discussion section. PLEASE HELP!!!

    • Avatar
      Jason Brownlee December 7, 2018 at 9:01 am #

      The baseline is a naive method, it makes one very simple assumption.

      As a hypothesis, it should be the simplest possible explanation of how to map inputs to outputs.

      Does that help?

  10. Avatar
    Iwan April 23, 2019 at 10:06 am #

    Hi Jason,

    I have a multi-class problem where each input sample X (with 252 dimensions) could belong to one of 89 classes.

    The dataset does have class-imbalance, I think one of the classes (let’s call it class K) makes up ~5% of all the samples. Does this mean my baseline would be to guess ‘K’ every time, and get a baseline accuracy of 5%?

    I tried using a neural network with no hidden layers, and a softmax activation on the output.
    The layout was a 252 -> 89 dense layer (with softmax). This produced an accuracy of ~77% when trained for around 50 epochs.

    I was wondering if guessing ‘K’ makes sense as a baseline, or if I should use the single-layer NN with softmax?

    Many thanks for your time!

    • Avatar
      Jason Brownlee April 23, 2019 at 2:31 pm #

      I think accuracy would not be a good choice for your dataset. You might want to consider cross entropy, F1 score, or other alternate measures.

  11. Avatar
    Tho Le August 21, 2019 at 4:15 am #

    Hi Jason,

    Thanks for the post!

    I have a question regarding on which dataset the baseline will be computed. For example, if I train a model on a dataset, I will need to divide the dataset into train and test sets. Then, the model performance, say a Mean Absolute Error, can be calculated on either train or test set. However, in order to make a fair comparison with the baseline, the performance metric of the baseline needs to be computed on the same dataset. This brings the question of is it ok to have baseline MAE of the training set and baseline MAE of the test set separately?

    Or else, maybe the MAE baseline can be evaluated on the whole original dataset, and the trained model should be used to predict the whole dataset another time to get a comparable MAE.


    • Avatar
      Jason Brownlee August 21, 2019 at 6:50 am #

      Baseline is on the test set, it is the evaluation of model skill and the point of comparison with other methods.

      • Avatar
        Tho Le August 21, 2019 at 7:26 am #

        Thanks for your reply. This sounds reasonable!


  12. Avatar
    chaitanya September 23, 2019 at 7:17 pm #

    How do we calculate R2 for base line model when we have multiple independent variables and a dependent variable?

    As this is a regression problem I took central tendency mean

    • Avatar
      Jason Brownlee September 24, 2019 at 7:42 am #

      If you are predicting multiple different variables, you can score each variable separately.

  13. Avatar
    samantha June 30, 2023 at 3:28 pm #

    Hi have have been thrown in a pit,i want to come up with the baseline for crime reported but dont think the formula i was given is correct.it only indicates quarters i think i will be able to come up with the correct baseline if i can just divide 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 reproted cases and then x by 100 to get the baseline of 2023-2024 i know you all know better any feedback will help.i am not good at maths.

    • Avatar
      James Carmichael July 1, 2023 at 12:24 pm #

      Hi Samanatha…What are the goals of your model (regression, clustering, timeseries forecasting, classification)? This information will better enable us to assist you.

  14. Avatar
    Kathleen July 2, 2023 at 2:13 pm #

    Dr. Brownlee, this article was so helpful, it gave my entire project structure and direction, thank you! I have over-dispersed count data as my response variables, so I am using generalized linear models with negative binomial and zero-inflated negative binomial families (I also have some zero-inflation 🙂 ), and I am also using support vector regression with a radial basis function.

    For baselines, I am using a mean regressor and a median regressor (in case the mean does not mean what I think it means), and it was also suggested I use a baseline linear model.

    My question is: I already know the data are not appropriate for a linear model, and now that I ran all the linear models and tested the assumptions formally (after feature selection), none of the assumptions are met, so I should not interpret the coefficients, and I likely cannot trust the test set performance metrics: RMSE, MAE, MAPE. I am not sure what purpose the baseline linear model serves if I violated all the assumptions and cannot interpret the model? Can I interpret anything from this baseline if I have heteroscedasticity, multicollinearity, etc.?

    Eternally grateful for your help.

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