One of the main computational and scientific challenges in the modern age is to extract useful information from unstructured texts. Topic models are one popular machine-learning approach which infers the latent topical structure of a collection of documents. Despite their success — in particular of its most widely used variant called Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) — and numerous applications in sociology, history, and linguistics, topic models are known to suffer from severe conceptual and practical problems, e.g. a lack of justification for the Bayesian priors, discrepancies with statistical properties of real texts, and the inability to properly choose the number of topics. Here, we approach the problem of identifying topical structures by representing text corpora as bipartite networks of documents and words and using methods from community detection in complex networks, in particular stochastic block models (SBM). We show that our SBM-based approach constitutes a more principled and versatile framework for topic modeling solving the intrinsic limitations of Dirichlet-based models through a more general choice of nonparametric priors. It automatically detects the number of topics and hierarchically clusters both the words and documents. In practice, we demonstrate through the analysis of artificial and real corpora that our approach outperforms LDA in terms of statistical model selection.
A network approach to topic models
Martin Gerlach, Tiago P. Peixoto, Eduardo G. Altmann