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On the design-dependent suboptimality of the Lasso

Reese PathakCong Ma
Feb 2024
This paper investigates the effect of the design matrix on the ability (or inability) to estimate a sparse parameter in linear regression. More specifically, we characterize the optimal rate of estimation when the smallest singular value of the design matrix is bounded away from zero. In addition to this information-theoretic result, we provide and analyze a procedure which is simultaneously statistically optimal and computationally efficient, based on soft thresholding the ordinary least squares estimator. Most surprisingly, we show that the Lasso estimator -- despite its widespread adoption for sparse linear regression -- is provably minimax rate-suboptimal when the minimum singular value is small. We present a family of design matrices and sparse parameters for which we can guarantee that the Lasso with any choice of regularization parameter -- including those which are data-dependent and randomized -- would fail in the sense that its estimation rate is suboptimal by polynomial factors in the sample size. Our lower bound is strong enough to preclude the statistical optimality of all forms of the Lasso, including its highly popular penalized, norm-constrained, and cross-validated variants.
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