The Elements of Statistical Learning

The Elements of Statistical Learning (WS 2014/15)


  • 2015-03-23 If you want to participate in a 2nd exam, write an email to the TA.
  • 2015-02-09 Room change: The next lecture will take place in Room 24 (MPI-INF).
  • 2015-01-29 The exam schedule is online.
  • 2015-01-14 The exam dates are online in the password protected area. If you want to take the exam, please check if you are on the list and send me an email if not.
  • 2014-12-01 Exam registration in the HISPOS system is possible.
  • 2014-11-14 The next tutorial will take place on Dec 2nd at 9:00 in Room 24 (MPI-INF).
  • 2014-11-12 The next lecture will be given on Thursday, Nov 20th at 14:00 in Room 001 (CBI building), solutions to Assignment 2 can be handed in before this lecture. Assignment 3 will be online after the lecture.
  • 2014-10-22 The first tutorial will be held on Oct 23th at 14:00 in Room 24 (MPI-INF).
  • 2014-10-22 The first assignment is now available and can be found in the password protected area.

General information

Lecturer Thomas Lengauer
Teaching Assistant Nora Speicher
Language English

Time and location

Lecture Wednesday, 10:00 - 12:00, Campus E2.1 (CBI building), Room 001
First lecture will be held on Oct. 22, 2014
Tutorial Tuesday, 09:00 (s.t.) - 10:00, MPI-INF, Room 024, biweekly
Office hours Thomas Lengauer: after each lecture
Nora Speicher: by appointment, Campus E1.4 (MPII), Room 527


In order to successfully participate, you need to register for the lecture in the LSF/HISPOS system of Saarland University - this will be possible as soon as the exam date has been entered into the system (this usually happens a few weeks into the semester).

Course material

Lecture slides, tutorial handouts, and problem sets are available in the password protected area.


This course covers a subject that is relevant for computer scientists in general as well as for other scientists involved in data analysis and modeling. It is not limited to the field of computational biology. The course fulfills the requirements for the curricula of computer science and bioinformatics as special lecture (Spezialvorlesung, 5 credit points).

The course will convey the ability, given a data set, to choose an appropriate statistical method for analyzing it, to select the appropriate parameters for the statistical model generated by that method and to assess the quality of the resulting model. Both theoretical and practical aspects will be covered.

The course will, by and large, follow the book An Introduction to Statistical Learning with Applications in R (2013). At times the course will take additional material from the book The Elements of Statistical Learning, Springer (second edition, 2009). The former book is the more introductory text, the latter book is more advanced. Both books are available as free PDFs. We encourage you, though, to acquire at least the first book in print. There will be one lecture per week (90 min) and one tutorial every two weeks (90 min). The slot for the tutorial will be set after the first lecture.


The course is targeted to advanced students in bioinformatics, computer science, math, and general science with mathematical background. Students should know linear algebra and have basic knowledge of statistics.

Requirements for the course certificate

You need a cumulative 50% of the points in the problem sets to be admitted to the oral exam.


James, Witten, Hastie, Tibshirani: An Introduction to Statistical Learning with Applications in R (2013). The students of the course are encouraged to acquire this book.

Hastie, Tibshirani, Friedman: The Elements of Statistical Learning, Springer (second edition, 2009).
Both books are available online as free PDFs.

Additional literature can be found in the library; the reserve list for the lecture can be found here: library reserve list for 'Elements of Statistical Learning 1'.

Problem Sets

Problem sets will cover theoretical proofs and programming exercises with roughly equal weight. In general, they are due Wednesday before the lecture (10:00 sharp); further details regarding the assignments will be announced in the first lecture.

The programming language that will be used is R - a language for statistical computing. It is freely available for Windows, Linux and Mac. As a vectorized programming language is ideally suited for the problems we will encounter. There are also many freely available packages (or libraries) to perform a variety of classification and regression tasks, or to visualize the results of statistical analyses in a convenient way.


The tutorials focus on the problem sets. A very brief reiteration of parts of the lecture is also given.

What can I do to prepare for the lecture?

  • Refresh your knowledge on basic statistics. Basic linear algebra will also be useful.
  • Familiarize yourself with the R programming language. You might find the following tutorials useful:
    • R for Beginners by Emmanuel Paradis. Especially relevant for us are chapters 1, 2, 3 and 6.
    • An Introduction to R - the standard R introduction. This is a very detailed manual; it is therefore quite lengthy.