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Diagnosing failures of fairness transfer across distribution shift in real-world medical settings

Jessica Schrouff · Natalie Harris · Sanmi Koyejo · Ibrahim Alabdulmohsin · Eva Schnider · Krista Opsahl-Ong · Alexander Brown · Subhrajit Roy · Diana Mincu · Christina Chen · Awa Dieng · Yuan Liu · Vivek Natarajan · Alan Karthikesalingam · Katherine Heller · Silvia Chiappa · Alexander D'Amour

Hall J (level 1) #118

Keywords: [ Deep Learning ] [ Fairness ] [ healthcare ] [ robustness ]


Diagnosing and mitigating changes in model fairness under distribution shift is an important component of the safe deployment of machine learning in healthcare settings. Importantly, the success of any mitigation strategy strongly depends on the \textit{structure} of the shift. Despite this, there has been little discussion of how to empirically assess the structure of a distribution shift that one is encountering in practice. In this work, we adopt a causal framing to motivate conditional independence tests as a key tool for characterizing distribution shifts. Using our approach in two medical applications, we show that this knowledge can help diagnose failures of fairness transfer, including cases where real-world shifts are more complex than is often assumed in the literature. Based on these results, we discuss potential remedies at each step of the machine learning pipeline.

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