Re: [R] Re-binning histogram data

From: François Pinard <>
Date: Fri 09 Jun 2006 - 09:53:53 EST

[Berton Gunter]

> I would argue that histograms are outdated relics and that density
> plots (whatever your favorite flavor is) should **always** be used
> instead these days.

When a now retired researcher paid us a visit, I showed him a density plot produced by R over some data he did work a lot, before he left. I, too, find them rather sexy, and I wanted to impress him with some of the pleasures of R, especially knowing he has been a dedicated user of SAS in his times. Yet, this old and wise man _immediately_ caught that the density curve was leaking a tiny bit through the extrema.

Not a big deal of course -- and he did like what he saw. Nevertheless, this reminded me that we should be careful at not dismissing too lightly years of accumulated knowledge, experience and know-how, merely because we give in joyful enthusiasm for more recent things.

Let me make a comparison, looking at the R mailing lists themselves. Some would much like sending HTML email in here: they would get colours, use various fonts, offer links, and have indentation which dynamically adapts on the receiving end to the window size of the reading guy. But the collective wisdom is to stick to non-HTML email, which is quite proven and still very functional, after all. Some impatient people or dubious tools use other things than fixed-width fonts while presenting text/plain email, or merely ignore the usual 79-column limit and other oldish etiquette issues while sending it: in last analysis, they kibitz the community more than they help it, and deep down, are a bit selfish. There is a long way to go before HTML email is really ubiquitous and correctly supported. Consider the long time MIME took to establish itself: even now, email readers correctly supporting MIME are hard to find -- most are fond on gadgets much more than they know standards.

Another comparison which pops to my mind is how some people fanatically try to impose UTF-8 all around, saying that ASCII or ISO-8859-1 (and many others) are part of the prehistory of computers. When mere users, they can always talk without making too much damage. But I've seen a few maintainers going overboard on such matters, consciously breaking software to force their convictions forward: "Crois ou meurs!" as we say in French (approximately: "Believe or perish!"). Here, just like for HTML mail or nicer bitmapped R graphics, Unicode does have technical merit; the truth is that we are _far_ from mastering everything about it, and there are lots of open issues that are not strictly technical.

Many proponent of these various things are tempted to say that they want to clean out the planet of outdated relics (I liked your expression!) and have the honest feeling they do trigger overall progress. Moreover, new good things do not necessarily make older things wrong. In a word, we should rather wait for progress with calm, and with respectful care of what already exists. Progress will impose itself slowly over time, and is not so much in need of forceful evangelists. :-)

François Pinard

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Received on Fri Jun 09 11:08:32 2006

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