[R] Re-binning histogram data

François Pinard pinard at iro.umontreal.ca
Fri Jun 9 01:53:53 CEST 2006

[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 I would argue that histograms are outdated relics and that density  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   http://pinard.progiciels-bpi.ca

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