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Text Classification

To demonstrate text classification with Scikit Learn, we'll build a simple spam filter. While the filters in production for services like Gmail will obviously be vastly more sophisticated, the model we'll have by the end of this chapter is effective and surprisingly accurate.

Spam filtering is the "hello world" of document classification, but something to be aware of is that we aren't limited to two classes. The classifier we will be using supports multi-class classification, which opens up vast opportunities like author identification, support email routing, etc… However, in this example we'll just stick to two classes: SPAM and HAM.

For this exercise, we'll be using a combination of the Enron-Spam data sets and the SpamAssassin public corpus. Both are publicly available for download and are retreived from the internet during the setup phase of the example code that goes with this chapter.

Loading Examples

Before we can train a classifier, we need to load our example data in a format we can feed to our algorithm. Scikit Learn typically likes things to be in a Numpy array-like structure. For a spam classifier, it would be useful to have a 2-dimensional array containing email bodies in one column and a class (also called a label), i.e. spam or ham, for the document in another.

A good starting place is a generator function that will take a file path, iterate recursively through all files in said path or its subpaths, and yield each email body contained therein. This allows us to dump our example data into directories without meticulously organizing it.

import os

NEWLINE = '\n'
SKIP_FILES = set(['cmds'])

def read_files(path):
  for root, dir_names, file_names in os.walk(path):
    for path in dir_names:
      read_files(os.path.join(root, path))
    for file_name in file_names:
      if file_name not in SKIP_FILES:
        file_path = os.path.join(root, file_name)
        if os.path.isfile(file_path):
          past_header, lines = False, []
          f = open(file_path)
          for line in f:
            if past_header:
            elif line == NEWLINE:
              past_header = True
          yield file_path, NEWLINE.join(lines).decode('cp1252', 'ignore')

According to protocol, email headers and bodies are separated by a blank line (NEWLINE), so we simply ignore all lines before that and then yield the rest of the email. You'll also notice the decode('cp1252', 'ignore') bit. This is necessary to decode the provided dataset into Unicode, which we need to work with Scikit Learn.

Now we need a way to build our dataset from all these email bodies. The Python library Pandas makes it easy to munge our data into shape as a DataFrame and then convert it to a Numpy array when we need to send it to our classifier.

from pandas import DataFrame

def build_data_frame(path, classification):
  data_frame = DataFrame({'text': [], 'class': []})
  for file_name, text in read_files(path):
    data_frame = data_frame.append(
        DataFrame({'text': [text], 'class': [classification]}, index=[file_name]))
  return data_frame

This function will build us a DataFrame from all the files in path. It will include the body text in one colum and the class in another. Each row will be indexed by the corresponding email's filename. Pandas lets you append a DataFrame to another DataFrame. It's really more of a concatenation than an append like Python's list.append(), so instead of just adding a new row to the DataFrame, we construct a new one and append it to the prior repeatedly.

Using these two functions, it's really easy for us to build and add to our dataset:

HAM = 0
SPAM = 1

    ('data/spam',         SPAM),
    ('data/easy_ham',     HAM),
    ('data/hard_ham',     HAM),
    ('data/beck-s',       HAM),
    ('data/farmer-d',     HAM),
    ('data/kaminski-v',   HAM),
    ('data/kitchen-l',    HAM),
    ('data/lokay-m',      HAM),
    ('data/williams-w3',  HAM),
    ('data/BG',           SPAM),
    ('data/GP',           SPAM),
    ('data/SH',           SPAM)

data = DataFrame({'text': [], 'class': []})
for path, classification in SOURCES:
  data = data.append(build_data_frame(path, classification))
data = data.reindex(numpy.random.permutation(data.index))

As you can see, increasing the size of our training set is just a matter of dumping a collection of emails into a directory and then adding it to SOURCES with an applicable class. The last thing we do is use DataFrame's reindex to shuffle our whole dataset. Otherwise, we'd have contiguous blocks of examples from each source. This is important for validating our results later.

Extracting Features

Now we have our data in a shape we can use. The next thing to do is to extract features from it. In general terms, that means to reduce the mass of unstructured data into some uniform set of features that our algorithm can learn from. For text classification, that can mean word counts. We produce a table of each word mention in the corpus (that is, the unioned collection of emails) and it's corresponding frequency for each class of email. A contrived visualization might look like this:

I Linux tomorrow today Viagra Free
HAM 319 619 123 67 0 50
SPAM 233 3 42 432 291 534

The code to do this using Scikit Learn's feature_extraction module is pretty minimal. We'll instantiate a CountVectorizer and then call its instance method fit_transform, which does two things: it learns the vocabulary of our corpus and extracts our word count features. This method is an efficient way to do both steps and for us it does the job, but in some cases you may want to use a different vocabulary than the one inherrent in the raw data. For this reason, CountVectorizer provides fit and transform methods to do them separately. Additionaly, you can provide a vocabulary in the constructor.

To get the text from our DataFrame, you just access it like a dict and it returns a vector of email bodies, which we convert to a Numpy array.

import numpy
from sklearn.feature_extraction.text import CountVectorizer

count_vectorizer = CountVectorizer()
counts = count_vectorizer.fit_transform(numpy.asarray(data['text']))

Classifying Emails

With these counts as features, we can go to the next steps: training a classifier and classifying individual emails. We'll use a naïve Bayes classifier to do so. A naïve Bayes classifier applies the Bayes theorem with naïve independence assumptions. That is, each feature (in this case word counts) is independent from every other one and each one contributes to the probability that an example belongs to a particular class. Using our contrive table above, a super spammy word like "Free" contributes to the probability that an email containing it is spam, however, a non-spam email could also contain "Free," balanced out with non-spammy words like "Linux" and "tomorrow."

We instantiate a new MultinomialNB and train it by calling fit, passing in our feature vector and target vector (the classes that each example belongs to). The indices of each vector must be aligned, but luckily Pandas keeps that straight for us.

from sklearn.naive_bayes import MultinomialNB

classifier = MultinomialNB()
targets = numpy.asarray(data['class']), targets)

And there we have it: a trained spam classifier. We can try it out by constructing some examples and predicting on them.

examples = ['Free Viagra call today!', "I'm going to attend the Linux users group tomorrow."]
example_counts = count_vectorizer.transform(examples)
predictions = classifier.predict(example_counts)
predictions # [1, 0]

Our predictions vector should be [1, 0], corresponding to the constants we defined for SPAM and HAM.

Still, doing each one of those steps one-at-a-time was pretty tedious. We can package it all up using a construct provided by Scikit Learn called a Pipeline. It does exactly what it sounds like: pipelines a series of steps into one object which you train and then use to make predictions. We can use it to merge our feature extraction and classification into one operation:

from sklearn.pipeline import Pipeline

pipeline = Pipeline([
  ('vectorizer',  CountVectorizer()),
  ('classifier',  MultinomialNB()) ])['text']), numpy.asarray(data['class']))
pipeline.predict(examples) # [1, 0]

The first element of each tuple in the pipeline, 'vectorizer', and 'classifier', are arbitrary, but useful. Pipelining simplifies things a lot when you start tweaking your model to improve your results, and we'll see why later. First, we need to get some real performance metrics. Classifying two short, imaginary messages isn't a very rigorous test. We need to cross-validate with some real emails which we already have labels for, much like the examples we trained on.


In fact, we can just split our training set into two parts with a ratio of 2:8 or so. Given that our dataset has been shuffled, each portion should contain an equal distribution of example types. We hold out the smaller portion–the cross-validation set, train the classifier on the larger part, predict on the CV set and compare them to their already-known classes. This method works very well, but it has the disadvantage of your classifier not getting trained and validated on all examples in the data set.

A more sophisticated method is known as k-fold cross-validation. Using this method, we split the data set into k parts, hold out one, combine the others and train on them, then validate against the held-out portion. You repeat that process k times (each fold), holding out a different portion each time. Then you can average the score measured for each fold to get a more accurate estimation of your model's performance.

While the process sounds complicated, Scikit Learn makes it really easy. We'll split our data set into 6 folds and cross-validate on it. Scikit Learn's KFold can be used to generate k pairs of bitmasks –vectors of booleans which we can use to select out randomized portions of the dataset for our train and cross-validation sets.

from sklearn.cross_validation import KFold

k_fold = KFold(n=len(data), n_folds=6, indices=False)
scores = []
for train_indices, test_indices in k_fold:
  train_text = numpy.asarray(data[train_indices]['text'])
  train_y    = numpy.asarray(data[train_indices]['class'])

  test_text  = numpy.asarray(data[test_indices]['text'])
  test_y     = numpy.asarray(data[test_indices]['class']), train_y)
  score = pipeline.score(test_text, test_y)

score = sum(scores) / len(scores)

Scikit Learn models provide a score method, which gives us the mean accuracy of the model on each fold, which we then average together for a mean accuracy on the entire set. Using the model we just built and the example data sets mentioned in the beggining of this chapter, we get about 90% accuracy. Out of 55,326 examples, we get about 2,454 false spams, and 2,894 false hams. I say "about" because by shuffling the data as we did, these numbers will vary each time we run the model.

That's really not bad for a first run. Obviously it's not production-ready even if we don't consider the scaling issues. Consumers demand accuracy, especially regarding false spams. Who doesn't hate to lose something important to the spam filter?

Improving Results

In order to get better results, there's a few things we can change. For starters, we can try to extract more features from the emails, we can try different kinds of features, we can tune the parameters of the naïve Bayes classifier, or try another classifier all together.

One way to get more features is to use n-gram counts instead of just word counts. So far we've relied upon what's known as "bag of words" features. It's called that because we simply toss all the words of a document into a "bag" and count them, disregarding any meaning that could locked up in the ordering of words.

An n-gram can be thought of as a word phrase of length n. For example, in the sentence "Don't tase me, bro" we have the 1-grams, "don't," "tase," "me," and "bro." The same sentence also has the 2-grams (or bigrams) "don't tase", "tase me", and "me bro." We can tell CountVectorizer to include any order of n-grams by giving it a range. For this data set, unigrams and bigrams seem to work well. 3-grams add a tiny bit more accuracy, but for the computation time they incur, it's probably not worth the marginal increase.

pipeline = Pipeline([
  ('count_vectorizer',   CountVectorizer(ngram_range=(1, 2))),
  ('classifier',         MultinomialNB()) ])

That boosts our model up to almost 93% accuracy. As before, it's a good idea to keep an eye on how it's doing for individual classes and not just the set as a whole. Luckily this increase represents an increase for both spam and ham classification accuracy.

Another way to improve our results is to use different kinds of features. N-gram counts have the disadvantage of unfairly weighting longer documents. A six-word spammy message and a five-page, heartfelt letter with six "spammy" words could potentially receive the same "spamminess" probability. To counter that, we can use frequencies rather than occurances. That is, focusing on how much of the document is made up of a particular word, instead of how many times the word appears in the document. This kind of feature set is known as term frequencies.

In addition to converting counts to frequencies, we can reduce noise in our features by reducing the weight for words that are common across the entire corpus. For example, words like "and," "the," and "but" probably don't contain a lot of information about the topic of the document, even though they will have high counts and frequencies across both ham and spam. To remedy that, we can use what's known as inverse document frequency or IDF.

Adding another vectorizer to our pipeline will convert the term counts to term frequencies and apply the IDF transformation:

pipeline = Pipeline([
  ('count_vectorizer',   CountVectorizer(ngram_range=(1, 2))),
  ('tfidf_transformer',  TfidfTransformer()),
  ('classifier',         MultinomialNB()) ])

Unfortunately, with this particular data set, using TF-IDF features results in a slightly more accurate model in the general sense, but it causes it to have considerably higher rates of false spam classification. That would result in a larger quantity of legitimate emails being caught in the filter, which in practice would be less desirable than having to manually delate the occasional spam.

To wrap up this chapter, we'll try one more thing: using a different classifier. The Bernouli naïve bayes classifier differs in a few ways, but in our case, the important difference is that it operates on n-gram occurances rather than counts. Instead of a numeric vector representing n-gram counts, it uses a vector a booleans. In general, this model performs better on shorter documents, so if we wanted to filter forum spam or tweets, it would probably be the one to use.

We don't have to change any of our feature extraction pipeline (except that we're reversing on the TfidfTransformer step and just using the CountVectorizer again). BernoulliNB has binarize parameter which lets set a threshold for converting numeric values to booleans. We'll use 0.0, which will convert words which are not present in a document to False and words which are present any number of times to True.

from sklearn.naive_bayes import BernoulliNB

pipeline = Pipeline([
  ('count_vectorizer',   CountVectorizer(ngram_range=(1, 2))),
  ('classifier',         BernoulliNB(binarize=0.0)) ])

This model does pretty poorly, but in a different way than the previous models. It allows a lot more spam to slip through, but there's potential for it to improve if we could find the right binarize threashold.

For anyone keeping count, out of 55,326 emails (21,838 ham, 33,488 spam), our models have performed this well so far:

Features Classifier False spams False hams General accuracy
Bag of words counts MultinomialNB 2454 (0.07328) 2894 (0.12150) 0.90334
Bigram counts MultinomialNB 2399 (0.07164) 1466 (0.06155) 0.93014
Bigram frequencies MultinomialNB 2629 (0.07851) 139 (0.00584) 0.94997
Bigram occurences BernoulliNB 53 (0.00158) 14881 (0.62478) 0.73007

The best solution we've encountered has been to train a MultinomialNB using either bigram counts or frequencies.

Something you should be asking yourself by this time is, "Why all the arbitrary parameters?" Why did we binarize at a threshold of 0.0? Why unigrams and bigrams? We were particular in the way we went about evaluating the accuracy of the models, namely k-folding, yet we didn't really apply the same rigor when we configured our classifiers. How do we know if we're doing the best we can?

The answer is, those parameters are arbitrary are are very likely not the optimal configuration. However, considering that our classifier takes several minutes to train and validate, it would take forever for us to exhaustively fine-tune, re-run, and test each change we could make.

Another thing that might come to mind is that even though the Bernouli model performed very poorly, it seemed to have seom value in that it got fewer false spams than any of the others.

Luckily, there are ways to automate the fine-tuning process as well as combine the predictions of multiple classifiers. Grid search parameter tuning and multi-model ensemble learning will be explained in a later chapter. For now, we've done a pretty good job at classifying some documents. A fun exercise might be to dump your email archives into the example data and label it according to the sender and seeing if you can accurately identify the authors.

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