Chapter 10. Linear Least Squares

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Least Squares Fit

Correlation coefficients measure the strength and sign of a relationship, but not the slope. There are several ways to estimate the slope; the most common is a linear least squares fit. A “linear fit” is a line intended to model the relationship between variables. A “least squares” fit is one that minimizes the mean squared error (MSE) between the line and the data.

Suppose we have a sequence of points, ys, that we want to express as a function of another sequence xs. If there is a linear relationship between xs and ys with intercept inter and slope slope, we expect each y[i] to be inter + slope * x[i].

But unless the correlation is perfect, this prediction is only approximate. The vertical deviation from the line, or residual, is

res = ys - (inter + slope * xs)

The residuals might be due to random factors like measurement error, or nonrandom factors that are unknown. For example, if we are trying to predict weight as a function of height, unknown factors might include diet, exercise, and body type.

If we get the parameters inter and slope wrong, the residuals get bigger, so it makes intuitive sense that the parameters we want are the ones that minimize the residuals.

We might try to minimize the absolute value of the residuals, or their squares, or their cubes; but the most common choice is to minimize the sum of ...

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