Testing for Outliers with Conformal p-values

Published in pre-print, 2021

Recommended citation: Bates, Cand├Ęs, Lei, Romano, and Sesia (2021). "Testing for Outliers with Conformal p-values." arXiv. https://arxiv.org/abs/2104.08279


This paper studies the construction of p-values for nonparametric outlier detection, taking a multiple-testing perspective. The goal is to test whether new independent samples belong to the same distribution as a reference data set or are outliers. We propose a solution based on conformal inference, a broadly applicable framework which yields p-values that are marginally valid but mutually dependent for different test points. We prove these p-values are positively dependent and enable exact false discovery rate control, although in a relatively weak marginal sense. We then introduce a new method to compute p-values that are both valid conditionally on the training data and independent of each other for different test points; this paves the way to stronger type-I error guarantees. Our results depart from classical conformal inference as we leverage concentration inequalities rather than combinatorial arguments to establish our finite-sample guarantees. Furthermore, our techniques also yield a uniform confidence bound for the false positive rate of any outlier detection algorithm, as a function of the threshold applied to its raw statistics. Finally, the relevance of our results is demonstrated by numerical experiments on real and simulated data.

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