[R] Re-binning histogram data

(Ted Harding) Ted.Harding at nessie.mcc.ac.uk
Thu Jun 8 18:16:57 CEST 2006

On 08-Jun-06 Berton Gunter wrote:
> I would argue that histograms are outdated relics and that density
> plots (whatever your favorite flavor is) should **always** be used
> instead these days.
> In this vein, I would appreciate critical rejoinders (public or
> private) to the following proposition: Given modern computer power
> and software like R on multi ghz machines, statistical and graphical
> relics of the pre-computer era (like histograms, low resolution
> printer-type plots, and perhaps even method of moments EMS
> calculations) should be abandoned in favor of superior but perhaps
> computation-intensive alternatives (like density plots, high
> resolution plots, and likelihood or resampling or Bayes based methods).

While your head is above the parapet, Bert ...

Your general question could go in many directions, but there's a
lot to be said for that point of view (as well as some against).

However, my short answer is that it's a matter of horses for courses.

In particular, where the histogram is concerned, it has a straightforward
property that it exactly represents the information about the counts
within the bin-ranges. While usually the bars are not labelled with
count values, you can (and I quite often have, when it was the only
way) recover the counts using a ruler graduated in millimetres. And
the same time it usually (if judiciously constructed) presents a
good blockwise representation of the implied underlying continuous

A continuous density estimation may be a better and smoother (or
at least more appealing) representation of the distribution (though
you would need to be careful about local humps), but to recover the
data from it would take a combination of optical scanning, image
analysis software, and (if you don't know what smoothing method
was used) heuristic algorithm-inference software. Well within
your technological utopia, of course, but ...

> NB: Please -- no pleadings that new methods would be mystifying
> to the non-cogniscenti. Following that to its logical conclusion
> would mean that we'd all have to give up our TV remotes and cell
> phones, and what kind of world would that be?! :-)

One day, let me show you how to use my wooden plough-share.

Best wishes,

PS Please bring your own horse.

E-Mail: (Ted Harding) <Ted.Harding at nessie.mcc.ac.uk>
Fax-to-email: +44 (0)870 094 0861
Date: 08-Jun-06                                       Time: 17:16:53
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