Keywords: [ annotation artifacts ] [ humans in the loop ] [ natural language inference ] [ text classification ] [ sentiment analysis ]
In attempts to produce machine learning models less reliant on spurious patterns in NLP datasets, researchers have recently proposed curating counterfactually augmented data (CAD) via a human-in-the-loop process in which given some documents and their (initial) labels, humans must revise the text to make a counterfactual label applicable. Importantly, edits that are not necessary to flip the applicable label are prohibited. Models trained on the augmented (original and revised) data appear, empirically, to rely less on semantically irrelevant words and to generalize better out of domain. While this work draws loosely on causal thinking, the underlying causal model (even at an abstract level) and the principles underlying the observed out-of-domain improvements remain unclear. In this paper, we introduce a toy analog based on linear Gaussian models, observing interesting relationships between causal models, measurement noise, out-of-domain generalization, and reliance on spurious signals. Our analysis provides some insights that help to explain the efficacy of CAD. Moreover, we develop the hypothesis that while adding noise to causal features should degrade both in-domain and out-of-domain performance, adding noise to non-causal features should lead to relative improvements in out-of-domain performance. This idea inspires a speculative test for determining whether a feature attribution technique has identified the causal spans. If adding noise (e.g., by random word flips) to the highlighted spans degrades both in-domain and out-of-domain performance on a battery of challenge datasets, but adding noise to the complement gives improvements out-of-domain, this suggests we have identified causal spans. Thus, we present a large scale empirical study comparing spans edited to create CAD to those selected by attention and saliency maps. Across numerous challenge domains and models, we find that the hypothesized phenomenon is pronounced for CAD.