Incidental R

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by Joseph Rickert

Last week, I posted a list of sessions at the Joint Statistical Meetings related to R. As it turned out, that list was only the tip of the iceberg. In some areas of statistics, such as graphics, simulation and computational statistics the use of R is so prevalent that people working in the field often don't think to mention it. For example, in the session New Approaches to Data Exploration and Discovery which included the presentation on the Glassbox package that figured in my original list, R was important to the analyses underlying nearly all of the talks in one way or another. The following are synopses of the talks in that session along with some pointers to relevant R resources. 

Exploring Huge Collections of Scatterplots

Statistics and visualization legend Leland Wilkinson of Skytree showed off ScagExployer, a tool he built with Tuan Dang of the University of Illinois at Chicago to explore scagnostics (a contraction for “Scatter Plot Diagnostics” made up by John Hartigan and Paul Tukey in the 1980’s). ScagExployer makes it possible to look for anomalies and search for similar distributions in a huge collections of scatter plots. (The example Leland showed contained 124K plots).The ideas and many of the visuals for the talk can be found in the paper ScagExplorer: Exploring Scatterplots by Their Scagnostics. ScagExployer is Java based tool, but R users can work with the scagnostics package written by Lee Wilkinson and Anushka Anand in 2007.

Glassbox: An R Package for Visualizing Algorithmic Models:

Google’s Max Ghenis presented work he did with fellow Googlers Ben Ogorek; and Estevan Flores. Glassbox is an R application that attempts to provide transparency to “blackbox” algorithmic models such as Random Forests. Among other things, it calculates and plots the collective importance of groups of variables in such a model. The slides for the presentation are available, as is the package itself. Google is using predictive modeling and tools such as glassbox to better understand the characteristics of its workforce and to ask important, reflective questions such a “How can we better understand diversity?” The company also does HR modeling to see if what they know about people can give them a competitive edge in hiring. For example, Google uses data collected from people who have interviewed at the company in the past, but who have not received offers from Google, to try and understand Google's future hiring needs. The coolest thing about this presentation was that these guys work for the Human Resources Department! If you think that you work for a tech company go down to HR and see if you can get some help with Random Forests.

A Web Application for Efficient Analysis of Peptide Libraries

Eric Hare of Iowa State University introduced PeLica, work he did with colleagues Timo Sieber of University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf and Heike Hofmann of Iowa State University. PeLica is an interactive, Shiny application to help assess the statistical properties of peptide libraries. PeLica’s creators refer to it as a Peptide Library Calculator that acts as a front end to the R package peptider which contains functions for evaluating the diversity of peptide libraries. The authors have done an exceptional job of using the documentation features available in Shiny to make their app a teaching tool.

To Merge or Not to Merge: An Interactive Visualization Tool for Local Merges of Mixture Model Components Elizabeth Lorenzi of Carnegie Mellon showed the prototype for an interactive visualization tool that she is working on with Rebecca Nugent of Carnegie Mellon and Nema Dean of the University of Glasgow. The software calculates inter-component similarities of mixture model component trees and displays them as hierarchical dendrograms. Elizabeth and her colleagues are implementing this tool as an R package.

An Interactive Visualization Platform for Interpreting Topic Models

Carson Sievert of Iowa State University presented LDAvis, a general framework for visualizing topic models that he is building with Kenny Shirley of AT&T Labs. LDAvis is interactive R software that enables users to interpret and compare topics by highlighting keywords. The theory is nicely described in a recent paper, and the examples on Carson’s Github page are instructive and fun to play with. In this plot below, circle 26 representing a  topic has been selected. The bar chart on the right displays the 30 most relevant terms for this topic. The red bars represent the frequency of a term in a given topic, (proportional to p(term | topic)), and the gray bars represent a term's frequency across the entire corpus, (proportional to p(term)).


Gravicom: A Web-Based Tool for Community Detection in Networks

Andrea Kaplan showed off an interactive application that she and her Iowa State University team members, Heike Hofmann and  Daniel Nordman are building. GRavicom is an interactive web application based on Shiny and the D3 JavaScript library that lets a user manually collect nodes into clusters in a social network graph and then save this grouping information for subsequent processing. The idea is that eyeballing a large social network and selecting “obvious” groups may be an efficient way to initialize a machine learning algorithm. Have a look at a  Live demo.

Human Factors Influencing Visual Statistical Inference

Mahbubul Majumder of the University of Nebraska presented joint work done with Heike Hofmann and Dianne Cook, both of Iowa State University, on identifying key factors such as demographics, experience, training, of even the placement of figures in an array of plots, that may be important for the human analysis of visual data. 



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