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Optimal Estimation of Sparse Topic Models

Xin Bing, Florentina Bunea, Marten Wegkamp; 21(177):1−45, 2020.


Topic models have become popular tools for dimension reduction and exploratory analysis of text data which consists in observed frequencies of a vocabulary of $p$ words in $n$ documents, stored in a $p\times n$ matrix. The main premise is that the mean of this data matrix can be factorized into a product of two non-negative matrices: a $p\times K$ word-topic matrix $A$ and a $K\times n$ topic-document matrix $W$. This paper studies the estimation of $A$ that is possibly element-wise sparse, and the number of topics $K$ is unknown. In this under-explored context, we derive a new minimax lower bound for the estimation of such $A$ and propose a new computationally efficient algorithm for its recovery. We derive a finite sample upper bound for our estimator, and show that it matches the minimax lower bound in many scenarios. Our estimate adapts to the unknown sparsity of $A$ and our analysis is valid for any finite $n$, $p$, $K$ and document lengths. Empirical results on both synthetic data and semi-synthetic data show that our proposed estimator is a strong competitor of the existing state-of-the-art algorithms for both non-sparse $A$ and sparse $A$, and has superior performance is many scenarios of interest.

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