[Rd] scale(x, center=FALSE) (PR#14219)
Ben Bolker
bolker at ufl.edu
Fri Feb 26 18:44:45 CET 2010
[cc'ing back to rdevel]
Maria Rizzo wrote:
> Ben,
>
> I receive the digest version of rdevel  so I do not have the
> individual messages to reply to. In reply to yours:
>
> I think this is a bug for the following reasons. While it is true
> that one can define a scale factor differently for different
> purposes, one would hope that within a given function the definition
> does not vary. If we agree that we want to divide by standard
> deviation, which scales data to sd=1, then why would we choose to
> divide by square root of 1/(n1) times sum of squares of the data
> when data is not centered? This does not scale the data to sd=1.
This is really a disagreement with the way the function is implemented
(and I happen to agree with you), but I would argue that it is *not* a
bug in the strict sense  I would call it a "misfeature".
From the R FAQ:
> Finally, a command's intended definition may not be best for
> statistical analysis. This is a very important sort of problem, but
> it is also a matter of judgment.
[snip]
>> Are you sure this is a bug? I agree that the way the function
>> behaves is (to me) mildly confusing, but the documentation says:
>>
>> * The value of ?scale? determines how column scaling is performed *
>> (after centering). If ?scale? is a numeric vector with length *
>> equal to the number of columns of ?x?, then each column of ?x? is *
>> divided by the corresponding value from ?scale?. If ?scale? is *
>> ?TRUE? then scaling is done by dividing the (centered) columns of *
>> ?x? by their standard deviations, and if ?scale? is ?FALSE?, no *
>> scaling is done.
>>
>> * The standard deviation for a column is obtained by computing the
>> * squareroot of the sumofsquares of the nonmissing values in
>> the * column divided by the number of nonmissing values minus one
>> * (whether or not centering was done).
>>
>> If you read the first clause of the last sentence of the first
>> paragraph in isolation, you would have the expectation that the
>> columns would be scaled by sd(x). However, the second paragraph
>> clearly states that the 'standard deviation' is defined here as the
>> rootmeansquare over (n1), that is, sqrt(sum(x^2)/(n1)) ...
>
> This conflicts with the paragraph above it. What I see is that the
> (centered) columns are divided by their standard deviations, where
> (centered) is inserted or not before "columns" depending on whether
> center=TRUE or center=FALSE. Why modify the definition of "standard
> deviation"? Why compute the standard deviation of the centered data
> when data is not centered? This measures standard deviation with
> respect to the origin rather than measuring dispersion about the
> mean.
>> This does seem like a funny choice, but it is probably stuck that
>> way without an extremely compelling argument to the contrary. If
>> you want to scale columns by sd() instead you can say
>>
>> scale(x,center=FALSE,scale=apply(x,2,sd))
>
> Of course, I know how to achieve the result of scaling my data to
> sd=1. The problem is that a function called scale with options of
> center=TRUE or center=FALSE, should apply the same definition of
> scale if scale=TRUE in both cases.
"should" according to you ...
>
>> Would you like to submit a patch for the documentation that would
>> preserve the sense, clarify the behavior, and not be much longer
>> than the current version ... ?
>
> For me the problem is deeper than an issue with the documentation. In
> any case, I think that it is a potential source of confusion and
> errors on the part of users.
>
> regards, Maria
>
Again, I agree with you that the behavior is not optimal, but it is
very hard to make changes in R when the behavior is suboptimal rather
than actually wrong (by some definition). Rcore is very conservative
about changes that break backward compatibility; I would like it if they
chose to change the function to use standard deviation rather than
rootmeansquare, but I doubt it will happen (and it would break things
for any users who are relying on the current definition).
It turns out that the documentation for this function was changed on
25 Nov 2009 to clarify this issue, but I think the change (which among
other minor changes modified the previous use of "root mean square" to
"standard deviation") didn't help that much ... I have attached a patch
file (and append the information below as well) that changes "standard
deviation" back to "root mean square" and is much more explicit about
this issue ... I hope Rcore will jump in, critique it, and possibly use
it in some form to improve (?) the documentation ...
[PS: I have written that the scaling is equivalent to sd() "if and
only if" centering was done. Technically it would also be equivalent if
the column already had zero mean ...]
===================================================================
 scale.Rd (revision 51180)
+++ scale.Rd (working copy)
@@ 41,13 +41,18 @@
equal to the number of columns of \code{x}, then each column of
\code{x} is divided by the corresponding value from \code{scale}. If
\code{scale} is \code{TRUE} then scaling is done by dividing the
 (centered) columns of \code{x} by their standard deviations, and if
+ (centered) columns of \code{x} by their rootmeansquares, and if
\code{scale} is \code{FALSE}, no scaling is done.

 The standard deviation for a column is obtained by computing the
 squareroot of the sumofsquares of the nonmissing values in the
 column divided by the number of nonmissing values minus one (whether
 or not centering was done).
+
+ The rootmeansquare for a (possibly centered)
+ column is defined as
+ \eqn{\sqrt{\sum(x^2)/(n1)}}{sqrt(sum(x^2)/(n1))},
+ where \eqn{x} is a vector of the nonmissing values
+ and \eqn{n} is the number of nonmissing values.
+ If (and only if) centering was done,
+ this is equivalent to \code{sd(x,na.rm=TRUE)}.
+ (To scale by the standard deviations without centering,
+ use \code{scale(x,center=FALSE,scale=apply(x,2,sd,na.rm=TRUE))}.)
}
\references{
Becker, R. A., Chambers, J. M. and Wilks, A. R. (1988)
 next part 
A nontext attachment was scrubbed...
Name: scale.Rd.patch
Type: text/xpatch
Size: 1340 bytes
Desc: not available
URL: <https://stat.ethz.ch/pipermail/rdevel/attachments/20100226/b83e9d8b/attachment.bin>
 next part 
A nontext attachment was scrubbed...
Name: signature.asc
Type: application/pgpsignature
Size: 261 bytes
Desc: OpenPGP digital signature
URL: <https://stat.ethz.ch/pipermail/rdevel/attachments/20100226/b83e9d8b/attachment0001.bin>
More information about the Rdevel
mailing list