Contrastive fine-tuning improves robustness for neural rankers
The performance of state-of-the-art neural rankers can deteriorate substantially when exposed to noisy inputs or applied to a new domain. In this paper, we present a novel method for fine-tuning neural rankers that can significantly improve their robustness to out-of-domain data and query perturbations. Specifically, a contrastive loss that compares data points in the representation space is combined with the standard ranking loss during fine-tuning. We use relevance labels to denote similar/dissimilar pairs, which allows the model to learn the underlying matching semantics across different query-document pairs and leads to improved robustness. In experiments with four passage ranking datasets, the proposed contrastive fine-tuning method obtains improvements on robustness to query reformulations, noise perturbations, and zeroshot transfer for both BERT and BART-based rankers. Additionally, our experiments show that contrastive fine-tuning outperforms data augmentation for robustifying neural rankers.