The effort to understand network systems in increasing detail has resulted in a diversity of methods designed to extract their large-scale structure from data. Unfortunately, many of these methods yield diverging descriptions of the same network, making both the comparison and understanding of their results a difficult challenge. A possible solution to this outstanding issue is to shift the focus away from ad hoc methods and move towards more principled approaches based on statistical inference of generative models. As a result, we face instead the more well-defined task of selecting between competing generative processes, which can be done under a unified probabilistic framework. Here, we consider the comparison between a variety of generative models including features such as degree correction, where nodes with arbitrary degrees can belong to the same group, and community overlap, where nodes are allowed to belong to more than one group. Because such model variants possess an increasing number of parameters, they become prone to overfitting. In this work, we present a method of model selection based on the minimum description length criterion and posterior odds ratios that is capable of fully accounting for the increased degrees of freedom of the larger models, and selects the best one according to the statistical evidence available in the data. In applying this method to many empirical unweighted networks from different fields, we observe that community overlap is very often not supported by statistical evidence and is selected as a better model only for a minority of them. On the other hand, we find that degree correction tends to be almost universally favored by the available data, implying that intrinsic node proprieties (as opposed to group properties) are often an essential ingredient of network formation.
Peixoto, T. P. (2015). Model selection and hypothesis testing for large-scale network models with overlapping groups. Physical Review X, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevX.5.011033