Editing/Adding factor levels in R

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I was trying to change few levels in my factor variable by simply coercing characters on that factor variable but it dint seem to work.

data(iris)<br />iris$Species[c language="(50:120)"][/c] <- rep("Random", 71)<br />
## Warning: invalid factor level, NAs generated<br />
iris$Species<br />
##   [1] setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa   <br />##   [8] setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa   <br />##  [15] setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa   <br />##  [22] setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa   <br />##  [29] setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa   <br />##  [36] setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa   <br />##  [43] setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa   <br />##  [50] <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>     <br /><br />##  [57] <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>     <br />##  [64] <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>     <br /><br />##  [71] <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>     <br />##  [78] <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>     <br /><br />##  [85] <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>     <br />##  [92] <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>     <br /><br />##  [99] <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>     <br />## [106] <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>     <br /><br />## [113] <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>      <NA>     <br />## [120] <NA>      virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica<br />## [127] virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica<br />## [134] virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica<br />## [141] virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica<br />## [148] virginica virginica virginica<br />## Levels: setosa versicolor virginica<br /><br />

Well, I did find a way to find a work around for that by doing this:

iris$Species <- as.character(iris$Species)<br />iris$Species[c language="(50:120)"][/c] <- rep("Random", 71)<br />iris$Species <- as.factor(iris$Species)<br />iris$Species<br />
##   [1] setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa   <br />##   [8] setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa   <br />##  [15] setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa   <br />##  [22] setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa   <br />##  [29] setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa   <br />##  [36] setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa   <br />##  [43] setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa    setosa   <br />##  [50] Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random   <br />##  [57] Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random   <br />##  [64] Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random   <br />##  [71] Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random   <br />##  [78] Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random   <br />##  [85] Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random   <br />##  [92] Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random   <br />##  [99] Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random   <br />## [106] Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random   <br />## [113] Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random    Random   <br />## [120] Random    virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica<br />## [127] virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica<br />## [134] virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica<br />## [141] virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica virginica<br />## [148] virginica virginica virginica<br />## Levels: Random setosa virginica<br />

This problem annoyed me at first, “Why would R not allow me to change/add factor [email protected]#[email protected]#?” but then Utkarsh and I had a conversation about this which made me think otherwise.

Excerpts from the conversation:

Utkarsh: It is usually not good to create data on the fly. Besides, when you create a factor variable, you should give the finite set of values it can take. This prevents future mistakes. It is called type checking. Python does not do it. R does it to some extent. C does it to some extent. Haskell does it very very strictly and it prevents about 50% of bugs from appearing. Let's say you misspell one of the levels.

In retrospect, it actually makes sense for us not to be able to add/edit the levels in factor variables. For a simple reason, we “might” make mistake, and misspelling a factor level could cause serious trouble. Lesson learnt!

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