Critically Examining the Neural Hype

Critically Examining the Neural Hype: Weak Baselines and the Additivity of Effectiveness Gains from Neural Ranking Models


Is neural IR mostly hype? In a recent SIGIR Forum article, Lin expressed skepticism that neural ranking models were actually improving ad hoc retrieval effectiveness in limited data scenarios. He provided anecdotal evidence that authors of neural IR papers demonstrate "wins" by comparing against weak baselines. This paper provides a rigorous evaluation of those claims in two ways: First, we conducted a meta-analysis of papers that have reported experimental results on the TREC Robust04 test collection. We do not find evidence of an upward trend in effectiveness over time. In fact, the best reported results are from a decade ago and no recent neural approach comes close. Second, we applied five recent neural models to rerank the strong baselines that Lin used to make his arguments. A significant improvement was observed for one of the models, demonstrating additivity in gains. While there appears to be merit to neural IR approaches, at least some of the gains reported in the literature appear illusory.

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