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SCons-based framework for reproducible and automated research with predictive modeling


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RIPL Predictive Modeling Template

This template contains the base code underlying several predictive models developed by Research Improving People's Lives. The primary goal of the template is to enable reproducible and automated research results, and to provide a standardized framework for creating predictive models across different research projects. This template repo can be forked and modified for the populations, outcomes, and features of a specific predictive model. It is designed around a specific secure research computing environment at RIPL that provides an Oracle database and a network-attached file system with a results cache (/data/cache/) shared by all users. However, it could be extended to other compute environments with some modification.

Repo layout

Subdirectory Description
input Raw data which will not be stored in the repo. This is typically a symlink to a read-only directly containing archival flat files.
output Small output files that will be versioned in git. This is especially helpful for storing results that need to quickly accessed in the future without recomputing them. However, large files should be avoided since they will bloat the size of the git repo.
scratch Staging area for large intermediate and output files. These files will be cached by SCons, so they often do not need to be recomputed again after they have been created the first time. SCons caches the output base on the full checksums of all dependencies.
source/inputs Source files for staging, transforming, indexing flat files from inputs.
source/populations Source files for defining populations of interest for the model.
source/outcomes Source files for building the model's outcomes (typically depends on populations).
source/features Source files for building model's features (typically depends on populations).
source/models Source files for concatenating features into design matrices, then running and tuning models (typically depends on outcomes and features).
source/figures Source files for generating figures (typically depends on models).
source/tables Source files for generating tables (typically depends on models).


The template uses the extensible SCons software construction tool to define dependencies between analysis steps and to automate an analysis run from start to finish. The top-level SConstruct makefile defines the overall build structure by including makefiles from each of the source subdirctories described above. We have tested the template with SCons 2.5.1 and 3.0.1 and Python 2.7.


If you have several features that are all parametrized by the same value, such as the random seed for a model or the start and end dates of a panel, you can store these global values as constants in

    "RANDOM_SEED": 1337,
    "START": 20010101,
    "END": 20160101

All key/value pairs in CONSTANTS are exported to the SCons env object via the extension in source/lib/SCons/ For example, the start/end values above could be accessed in the populations makefile (source/populations/Make) as env.START and env.END. The random seed might be accessed in the models makefile (source/models/Make) as env.RANDOM_SEED.

SQLTable node

The SQLTable extension in source/libs/SCons/ allows SCons to view a read-only Oracle SQL table as a file-like dependency. A rule can both depend on a SQL table for its input, and generate a SQL table as its output. The table must be constructed using the included Python library, which will mark the table as read-only and compute a checksum by concatenating and hashing all cells in the table. This checksum is stored as a table comment and can be quickly accessed by SCons to determine if the table's contents have changed.

Python, R, and Stata builders

The builder extensions in source/lib/SCons/ make it easier to call Python, R, and Stata scripts from a makefile, instead of using the more generic env.Command. In these functions, you must specify a list of targets first, then a list of sources. The first source must be the code file to be run. These functions all automatically produce a log of the execution. The log is always stored in the output folder for the corresponding source subdirectory. Examples are provided below.


    ["#output/features/feature1.csv", "#output/features/feature1.manifest"],
    ["", "#inputs/feature1_data.csv"]

The log file will be output/features/


    ["#output/features/feature1.csv", "#output/features/feature1.manifest"],
    ["feature1.R", "#input/feature1_data.csv"]

The log file will be output/features/feature1.R.log.


    ["#output/features/feature1.csv", "#output/features/feature1.manifest"],
    ["", "#input/feature1_data.csv"]

The log file will be output/features/

Python library

The primary feature of the library is a Connection object, which encapsulates a connection to an Oracle database and provides helper methods for working with SQL tables and statements.

The Connection object may used as a context manager. When used as a context manager, database connections are automatically closed even in the event of an unhandled exception. For this reason, it is recommended that Connections be opened using the "with ... as ..." keyword.

execute method

Automatically pastes parameters into SQL statements. Parameter names must be enclosed in '%' and must resolve to a defined variable in the caller's local scope. If no matching parameter is found, the calling frame's global variables are searched next. If no matching parameter is found a NameError is raised.


with Connection() as cxn:
    max_spend = 10000
    cxn.execute("SELECT * FROM table WHERE spend <= %max_spend%")

save_table method

Based on Stata's save_data command, but for tables in an Oracle database. It can add a primary key index on the table, and will print out summary statistics for the table.


max_valid_amount = 8
sql = """
      CREATE TABLE new_table AS
      SELECT *  
        FROM table
       WHERE amount < %max_valid_amount%
with Connection() as cxn:
    cxn.save_table("new_table", "key_variable")

read_csv method

Creates a SQL table from a csv file using Oracle's sqlldr utility. Requires a schema list that maps columns to their Oracle types.

read_dataframe method

Like read_csv, but starts from a pandas dataframe, and can automatically infer the schema based on the pandas column types.


SCons-based framework for reproducible and automated research with predictive modeling







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