r,ggplot2,eval , What are the limits to inheritance in ggplot2?


What are the limits to inheritance in ggplot2?

Question:

Tag: r,ggplot2,eval

I have been trying to work out a few things about ggplot2, and how supplemntary arguments inherit from the first part ggplot(). Specifically, if inheritance is passed on beyond the geom_*** part.

I have a histogram of data:

ggplot(data = faithful, aes(eruptions)) + geom_histogram()

Which produces a fine chart, though the breaks are default. It appears to me (an admitted novice), that geom_histogram() is inheriting the data specification from ggplot(). If I want to have a smarter way of setting the breaks I could use a process like so:

ggplot(data = faithful, aes(eruptions)) + 
geom_histogram(breaks = seq(from = min(faithful$eruptions), 
                            to = max(faithful$eruptions), length.out = 10))

However, here I am re-specifying within the geom_histogram() function that I want faithful$eruptions. I have been unable to find a way to phrase this without re-specifying. Further, if I use the data = argument in geom_histogram(), and specify just eruptions in min and max, seq() still doesn't understand that I mean the faithful data set.

I know that seq is not part of ggplot2, but I wondered if it might be able to inherit regardless, as it is bound within geom_histogram(), which itself inherits from ggplot(). Am I just using the wrong syntax, or is this possible?


Answer:

Note that the term you are looking for is not "inheritance", but non standard evaluation (NSE). ggplot offers a couple of places where you can refer to your data items by their column names instead of a full reference (NSE), but those are the mapping arguments to the geom_* layers only, and even then when you are using aes. These work:

ggplot(faithful) + geom_point(aes(eruptions, eruptions))
ggplot(faithful) + geom_point(aes(eruptions, eruptions, size=waiting))

The following doesn't work because we are referring to waiting outside of aes and mapping (note first arg to geom_* is the mapping arg):

ggplot(faithful) + geom_point(aes(eruptions, eruptions), size=waiting)

But this works:

ggplot(faithful) + geom_point(aes(eruptions, eruptions), size=faithful$waiting)

though differently since now size is being interpreted litterally instead of being normalized as when part of mapping.

In your case, since breaks is not part of the aes/mapping spec, you can't use NSE and you are left using the full reference. Some possible work-arounds:

ggplot(data = faithful, aes(eruptions)) + geom_histogram(bins=10)  # not identical
ggplot(data=faithful, aes(eruptions)) + 
  geom_histogram(
    breaks=with(faithful,  # use `with`
      seq(from=max(eruptions), to=min(eruptions), length.out=10)
  ) )

And no-NSE, but a little less typing:

ggplot(data=faithful, aes(eruptions)) + 
  geom_histogram(
    breaks=do.call(seq, c(as.list(range(faithful$eruptions)), len=10))
  )

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