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Evaluating Attribution for Graph Neural Networks

Alexander B Wiltschko
Benjamin Sanchez-Lengeling
Brian Lee
Jennifer Wei
Wesley Qian
Yiliu Wang
Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (2020)


Interpretability of machine learning models is critical to scientific understanding, AI safety, and debugging. Attribution is one approach to interpretability, which highlights input dimensions that are influential to a neural network’s prediction. Evaluation of these methods is largely qualitative for image and text models, because acquiring ground truth attributions requires expensive and unreliable human judgment. Attribution has been comparatively understudied for graph neural networks (GNNs), a model class of growing importance that makes predictions on arbitrarily-sized graphs. Graph-valued data offer an opportunity to quantitatively benchmark attribution methods, because challenging synthetic graph problems have computable ground-truth attributions. In this work we adapt commonly-used attribution methods for GNNs and quantitatively evaluate them using the axes of attribution accuracy, stability, faithfulness and consistency. We make concrete recommendations for which attribution methods to use, and provide the data and code for our benchmarking suite. Rigorous and open source benchmarking of attribution methods in graphs could enable new methods development and broader use of attribution in real-world ML tasks.