We show that the ‘naive Bayes’ classifier which assumes independent covariates greatly outperforms the Fisher linear discriminant rule under broad conditions when the number of variables grows faster than the number of observations, in the classical problem of discriminating between two normal populations. We also introduce a class of rules spanning the range between independence and arbitrary dependence. These rules are shown to achieve Bayes consistency for the Gaussian ‘coloured noise’ model and to adapt to a spectrum of convergence rates, which we conjecture to be minimax.
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