The Photometric LSST Astronomical Time-series Classification Challenge (PLAsTiCC): Selection of a performance metric for classification probabilities balancing diverse science goals


Classification of transient and variable light curves is an essential step in using astronomical observations to develop an understanding of their underlying physical processes. However, upcoming deep photometric surveys, including the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), will produce a deluge of low signal-to-noise data for which traditional labeling procedures are inappropriate. Probabilistic classification is more appropriate for the data but are incompatible with the traditional metrics used on deterministic classifications. Furthermore, large survey collaborations intend to use these classification probabilities for diverse science objectives, indicating a need for a metric that balances a variety of goals. We describe the process used to develop an optimal performance metric for an open classification challenge that seeks probabilistic classifications and must serve many scientific interests. The Photometric LSST Astronomical Time-series Classification Challenge (PLAsTiCC) is an open competition aiming to identify promising techniques for obtaining classification probabilities of transient and variable objects by engaging a broader community both within and outside astronomy. Using mock classification probability submissions emulating archetypes of those anticipated of PLAsTiCC, we compare the sensitivity of metrics of classification probabilities under various weighting schemes, finding that they yield qualitatively consistent results. We choose as a metric for PLAsTiCC a weighted modification of the cross-entropy because it can be meaningfully interpreted. Finally, we propose extensions of our methodology to ever more complex challenge goals and suggest some guiding principles for approaching the choice of a metric of probabilistic classifications.