Are we fitting data or noise? Analysing the predictive power of commonly used datasets in drug-, materials-, and molecular-discovery.

08 May 2024, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Data-driven techniques for establishing quantitative structure property relations are a pillar of modern materials and molecular discovery. Fuelled by the recent progress in deep learning methodology and the abundance of new algorithms, it is tempting to chase benchmarks and incrementally build ever more capable machine learning (ML) models. While model evaluation has made significant progress, the intrinsic limitations arising from the underlying experimental data are often overlooked. In the chemical sciences data collection is costly, thus datasets are small and experimental errors can be significant. These limitations of such datasets affect their predictive power, a fact that is rarely considered in a quantitative way. In this study, we analyse commonly used ML datasets for regression and classification from drug discovery, molecular discovery, and materials discovery. We derived maximum and realistic performance bounds for nine such datasets by introducing noise based on estimated or actual experimental errors. We then compared the estimated performance bounds to the reported performance of leading ML models in the literature. Out of the nine datasets and corresponding ML models considered, four were identified to have reached or surpassed dataset performance limitations and thus, they may potentially be fitting noise. More generally, we systematically examine how data range, the magnitude of experimental error, and the number of data points influence dataset performance bounds. Alongside this paper, we release the Python package NoiseEstimator and provide a web- based application for computing realistic performance bounds. This study and the resulting tools will help practitioners in the field understand the limitations of datasets and set realistic expectations for ML model performance. This work stands as a reference point, offering analysis and tools to guide development of future ML models in the chemical sciences.


machine learning
drug discovery
Artificial Intelligence

Supplementary weblinks


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