Benchmarks: discretize()

Marcin Kosinski        
Krzysztof Slomczynski    

Benchmark is not available here (we don’t want to run this code on the CRAN server). Please visit the


About discretization

In the statistical modelling, the discretization is the process of transferring continuous explanatory variables into discrete counterparts. Problems caused by categorization of continuous variables are known and widely spread (Harrell 2015), but in some cases there appear an algorithmic requirement for the discretization. Moreover, there exist few algorithms, like Decision Trees (Salzberg 1994), where continuous attributes are discretized during the learning process. Other reason for variable discretization include increasing the speed of induction algorithms (Catlett 1991).

Even though many categorization algorithms have been developed (Holte 1993, @Chan169942), in this article we focus on a recursive entropy minimization heuristic for categorization coupled with a Minimum Description Length (MDL) critetion (Rissanen 1986) that controls the number of intervals produced over the continuous space. This is motivated by the original usage of this algorithm in FSelector package, which is our baseline.

(Dougherty, Kohavi, and Sahami 1995) showed better performance of classification for discretized feature set on real-world datasets and states that the described method was found promising by the authors not only for the local discretization but also for global discretization (Ting 1994).

Comparisons on RTCGA data

About The Cancer Genome Atlas

The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) is a comprehensive and coordinated effort to accelerate our understanding of the molecular basis of cancer through the application of genome analysis technologies, including large-scale genome sequencing -

RTCGA team converted selected datasets from this study into few separate packages that are hosted on Bioconductor. These R packages make selected datasets easier to access and manage. Data sets in RTCGA packages are large and cover complex relations between clinical outcomes and genetic background.

To use RTCGA install package with instructions from it’s Bioconductor home page

Dependent variable

Specifies whether a sample came from tumour or healthy tissue. It is denoted by 14th sign in bcr_patiend_barcode variable in BRCA.rnaseq dataset that containt RNA-Seq genes’ expressions for patients suffering from Breast Cancer.

Independent variables

It is mandatory to get rid of special signs from their names.


Discretization Benchmarks

names_by <- function(nameBy, vecBy) {
           sapply(max(nchar(vecBy)) - nchar(vecBy),
                  function(zeros) {
                    paste0(rep(0, zeros), collapse = "")

get_times <- function(fun, vecRows, vecCols, nTimes) {
  forRows <- pblapply(vecRows, function(nRows) {
    forCols <- pblapply(vecCols + 1, function(nCols) {
      suppressWarnings(microbenchmark(fun(bcr_patient_barcode ~ .,
                         BRCA.rnaseq[1:nRows, 1:nCols]),
                     times = nTimes))
    colsNames <- names_by(nameBy = "columns_", vecBy = vecCols)
    setNames(forCols, colsNames)
  rowsNames <- names_by(nameBy = "rows_", vecBy = vecRows)
  setNames(forRows, rowsNames)

make_df <- function(bm_data, package) {
    rows = rep(
      x = as.integer(
          pattern = "rows_0*",
             replacement = "",
             x = names(bm_data)
      each =  unique(sapply(bm_data, length))
    columns = as.integer(
        pattern = "columns_0*",
        replacement = "",
        x = as.vector(sapply(bm_data, names))
    time = as.vector(
        function(setOfCols) {
            function(set) {
              median(set$time) / 10 ^ 9
    package = package

bm_fsr_discretize <- get_times(fun = discretize,
                               vecRows = seq(from = 200, to = 1000, by = 200),
                               vecCols = c(10, 100, 500, 1000),
                               nTimes = 1L)
bm_rwk_discretize <- get_times(fun = Discretize,
                               vecRows = seq(from = 200, to = 1000, by = 200),
                               vecCols = c(10, 100, 500, 1000),
                               nTimes = 1L)

df_fsr <- make_df(bm_data = bm_fsr_discretize, package = "FSelectorRcpp")
df_rwk <- make_df(bm_data = bm_rwk_discretize, package = "RWeka")
bm_df <- rbind(df_fsr, df_rwk)

make_plot <- function(y) {
  yUnit <- gsub(pattern = "time",
                replacement = "s",
                x = y)
  ggplot(data = bm_df, aes_string(x = "rows", y = y, color = "package")) +
  facet_grid(columns ~ ., labeller = label_both) +
  geom_point() +
  xlab("Number of rows [-]") +
  ylab(paste0("Elapsed time [", yUnit, "]")) +
  ggtitle(label = "Microbenchmark: discretization function comparison",
          subtitle = "for different sizes of data sets") +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(hjust = 0.5),
        plot.subtitle = element_text(hjust = 0.5),
        legend.position = "top")

bm_plot <- make_plot("time")
bm_plot_log <- make_plot("log(time)")



Catlett, J. 1991. “On Changing Continuous Attributes into Ordered Discrete Attributes.” In Machine Learning — Ewsl-91: European Working Session on Learning Porto, Portugal, March 6–8, 1991 Proceedings, edited by Yves Kodratoff, 164–78. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Chan, C. C., C. Batur, and A. Srinivasan. 1991. “Determination of Quantization Intervals in Rule Based Model for Dynamic Systems.” In Systems, Man, and Cybernetics, 1991. ’Decision Aiding for Complex Systems, Conference Proceedings., 1991 Ieee International Conference on, 1719–23 vol.3.

Dougherty, James, Ron Kohavi, and Mehran Sahami. 1995. “Supervised and Unsupervised Discretization of Continuous Features.” In MACHINE Learning: PROCEEDINGS of the Twelfth International Conference, 194–202. Morgan Kaufmann.

Harrell, Frank. 2015. “General Handouts and Reference Material on Biostatistical Modeling - Problems Caused by Categorizing Continuous Variables.” Vanderbilt Biostatistics Wiki. 2015.

Holte, Robert C. 1993. “Very Simple Classification Rules Perform Well on Most Commonly Used Datasets.” Machine Learning 11 (1): 63–90.

Rissanen, Jorma. 1986. “Stochastic Complexity and Modeling.” Ann. Statist. 14 (3). The Institute of Mathematical Statistics: 1080–1100.

Salzberg, Steven L. 1994. “C4.5: Programs for Machine Learning by J. Ross Quinlan. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, Inc., 1993.” Machine Learning 16 (3): 235–40.

Ting, Kai Ming. 1994. “Discretization of Continuous-Valued Attributes and Instance-Based Learning.”