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A multivariate analysis often begins with the computation of simple statistics of the sample: the mean and standard deviation of each variable; linear (Pearson's r) or rank (Spearman's rho, or Kendall's tau) correlation coefficients between pairs of variables. Statisticians often divide each value by the sample standard deviation for that variable (known as `standardizing' or `Studentizing' the sample), while astronomers often take a log transform or consider the ratio of two variables with the same units.

Study of pair-wise relationships between variables provides a valuable but fundamentally limited view of the data. A multivariate database should be viewed as a cloud of points (or vectors) in p-space which can have any form of structure, not just planar correlations parallel to the axes. The sample covariance matrix S contains information for this more general approach, and lies at the root of many methods of multivariate analysis developed during the 1930-60s. The method most widely used in astronomy is principal components analysis. Here the 1st principal component is e1T X where ek is the eigenvector of S corresponding to the kth largest value. This is equivalent to finding by the direction in p-space where the data are most elongated using least-squares to minimize the variance. The second component finds the elongation direction after the first component is removed, and so forth. Important applications in astronomy include the stellar spectral classification (Deeming 1964), eludication of Hubble's tuning-fork spiral galaxy classification system (Whitmore 1984), and characterization of relationships between emission lines, broad absorption lines and the continuum in quasar spectra (Francis et al. 1992).

In canonical analysis, the variables are divided into two preselected groups and the eigenvectors of the cross-sample covariance matrix S11-1/2 S12 S22-1 S21 S11-1/2 gives the principal linear relationships between the two sets of variables. This might be used to relate stellar metallicity variables with kinematic variables to study Galactochemical evolution, or stellar magnetic activity indicators with bulk star properties to study dynamo theory.

A sample, collected from one or more multiwavelength surveys, often will not constitute a single type of astronomical object. Variance-covariance structure residing within the matrix S may thus reflect heterogeneity of the sample, rather than astrophysical processes within a homogeneous class. It is thus important to search for groupings in p-space using multivariate algorithms. Dozens of such methods have been proposed. Unfortunately, most are procedural algorithms without formal statistics (i.e., no probabilistic measures of merit) and there is little mathematical guidance which produces `better' clusters.

Hierarchical clustering procedures produces small clusters within larger clusters. One such procedure, `percolation' or the `friends-of-friends' algorithm is a favorite among astronomers. It is called single linkage clustering obtained by successively removing the longest branches of the unique minimal spanning tree connecting the n points in p-space. Single linkage produces long stringy clusters. This may be appropriate for galaxy clustering studies, but researchers in other fields usually prefer average or complete linkage algorithms which produce more compact clusters. The many varieties of hierarchical clustering arise because the scientist must chose the metric (e.g., should the `distance' between objects be Euclidean or squared?), weighting (e.g., how is the average location of a cluster defined?), and criteria for merging clusters (e.g., should the total variance or internal group variance be minimized?).

An alternative method with a more rigorous mathematical foundation is k-means partitioning. It finds the combination of k groups that minimizes intragroup variance. However, it is necessary to specify k in advance.

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