[R] Interesting quirk with fractions and rounding

George Trojan - NOAA Federal george.trojan at noaa.gov
Fri Apr 21 17:54:37 CEST 2017

The subject is messy. I vaguely remember learning this stuff on my
first numerical analysis course over 40 years ago. The classic
reference material (much newer, only 25 years old) is:
What Every Computer Scientist Should Know About Floating-Point
Arithmetic, David Goldberg, ACM Computing Surveys, Vol 23, No 1, 1991.
Available here:  http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=


I suggest you read some basic books on numerical analysis and/or talk
> with a numerical analyst. You are (like most of us) an amateur at this
> sort of thing trying to reinvent wheels. If you are concerned with
> details, talk with experts. Don't assume what you don't know. This
> list is *not* a reliable source of such expertise, although there
> *are* individuals in the R universe with considerable knowledge who
> may or may not choose to respond.
> Cheers,
> Bert
> Bert Gunter
> "The trouble with having an open mind is that people keep coming along
> and sticking things into it."
> -- Opus (aka Berkeley Breathed in his "Bloom County" comic strip )

On Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 5:19 AM, Paul Johnson <pauljohn32 at gmail.com
<https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-help>> wrote:
>* We all agree it is a problem with digital computing, not unique to R. I
*>* don't think that is the right place to stop.
*>>* What to do? The round example arose in a real funded project where 2 R
*>* programs differed in results and cause was  that one person got 57 and
*>* another got 58. The explanation was found, but its less clear how to
*>* prevent similar in future. Guidelines, anyone?
*>>* So far, these are my guidelines.
*>>* 1. Insert L on numbers to signal that you really mean INTEGER. In R,
*>* forgetting the L in a single number will usually promote whole calculation
*>* to floats.
*>* 2. S3 variables are called 'numeric' if they are integer or double storage.
*>* So avoid "is.numeric" and prefer "is.double".
*>* 3. == is a total fail on floats
*>* 4. Run print with digits=20 so we can see the less rounded number. Perhaps
*>* start sessions with "options(digits=20)"
*>* 5. all.equal does what it promises, but one must be cautious.
*>>* Are there math habits we should follow?
*>>* For example, Is it generally true in R that (100*x)/y is more accurate than
*>* 100*(x/y), if x > y?   (If that is generally true, couldn't the R
*>* interpreter do it for the user?)
*>>* I've seen this problem before. In later editions of the game theory program
*>* Gambit, extraordinary effort was taken to keep values symbolically as
*>* integers as long as possible. Avoid division until the last steps. Same in
*>* Swarm simulations. Gary Polhill wrote an essay about the Ghost in the
*>* Machine along those lines, showing accidents from trusting floats.
*>>* I wonder now if all uses of > or < with numeric variables are suspect.
*>>* Oh well. If everybody posts their advice, I will write a summary.
*>>* Paul Johnson
*>* University of Kansas
*>>* On Apr 21, 2017 12:02 AM, "PIKAL Petr" <petr.pikal at precheza.cz
<https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-help>> wrote:
*>>>* Hi
*>>>>* The problem is that people using Excel or probably other such
*>>* do not encounter this behaviour as Excel silently rounds all your
*>>* calculations and makes approximate comparison without telling it does so.
*>>* Therefore most people usually do not have any knowledge of floating point
*>>* numbers representation.
*>>>>*  Cheers
*>>* Petr
*>>>>* -----Original Message-----
*>>* From: R-help [mailto:r-help-bounces at r-project.org
<https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-help>] On Behalf Of Paul
*>>* Johnson
*>>* Sent: Thursday, April 20, 2017 11:56 PM
*>>* To: R-help <r-help at r-project.org
*>>* Subject: [R] Interesting quirk with fractions and rounding
*>>>>* Hello, R friends
*>>>>* My student unearthed this quirk that might interest you.
*>>>>* I wondered if this might be a bug in the R interpreter. If not a bug, it
*>>* certainly stands as a good example of the dangers of floating point numbers
*>>* in computing.
*>>>>* What do you think?
*>>>>* > 100*(23/40)
*>>* [1] 57.5
*>>* > (100*23)/40
*>>* [1] 57.5
*>>* > round(100*(23/40))
*>>* [1] 57
*>>* > round((100*23)/40)
*>>* [1] 58
*>>>>* The result in the 2 rounds should be the same, I think.  Clearly some
*>>* digital number devil is at work. I *guess* that when you put in whole
*>>* numbers and group them like this (100*23), the interpreter does integer
*>>* math, but if you group (23/40), you force a fractional division and a
*>>* floating point number. The results from the first 2 calculations are not
*>>* actually 57.5, they just appear that way.
*>>>>* Before you close the books, look at this:
*>>>>* > aa <- 100*(23/40)
*>>* > bb <- (100*23)/40
*>>* > all.equal(aa,bb)
*>>* [1] TRUE
*>>* > round(aa)
*>>* [1] 57
*>>* > round(bb)
*>>* [1] 58
*>>>>* I'm putting this one in my collection of "difficult to understand"
*>>* numerical calculations.
*>>>>* If you have seen this before, I'm sorry to waste your time.
*>>>>* pj
*>>* --
*>>* Paul E. Johnson   http://pj.freefaculty.org <http://pj.freefaculty.org>
*>>* Director, Center for Research Methods and Data Analysis
*>>* http://crmda.ku.edu <http://crmda.ku.edu>
*>>>>* To write to me directly, please address me at pauljohn at
ku.edu <http://ku.edu>.
*>>>>* ______________________________________________
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