[Python-Dev] PEP 450 adding statistics module

Steven D'Aprano steve at pearwood.info
Thu Aug 15 15:08:22 CEST 2013

On 15/08/13 21:42, Mark Dickinson wrote:
> The PEP and code look generally good to me.
> I think the API for median and its variants deserves some wider discussion:
> the reference implementation has a callable 'median', and variant callables
> 'median.low', 'median.high', 'median.grouped'.  The pattern of attaching
> the variant callables as attributes on the main callable is unusual, and
> isn't something I've seen elsewhere in the standard library.  I'd like to
> see some explanation in the PEP for why it's done this way.  (There was
> already some discussion of this on the issue, but that was more centered
> around the implementation than the API.)
> I'd propose two alternatives for this:  either have separate functions
> 'median', 'median_low', 'median_high', etc., or have a single function
> 'median' with a "method" argument that takes a string specifying
> computation using a particular method.  I don't see a really good reason to
> deviate from standard patterns here, and fear that users would find the
> current API surprising.

Alexander Belopolsky has convinced me (off-list) that my current implementation is better changed to a more conservative one of a callable singleton instance with methods implementing the alternative computations. I'll have something like:

def _singleton(cls):
     return cls()

class median:
     def __call__(self, data):
     def low(self, data):

In my earlier stats module, I had a single median function that took a argument to choose between alternatives. I called it "scheme":

median(data, scheme="low")

R uses parameter called "type" to choose between alternate calculations, not for median as we are discussing, but for quantiles:

quantile(x, probs ... type = 7, ...).

SAS also uses a similar system, but with different numeric codes. I rejected both "type" and "method" as the parameter name since it would cause confusion with the usual meanings of those words. I eventually decided against this system for two reasons:

- Each scheme ended up needing to be a separate function, for ease of both implementation and testing. So I had four private median functions, which I put inside a class to act as namespace and avoid polluting the main namespace. Then I needed a "master function" to select which of the methods should be called, with all the additional testing and documentation that entailed.

- The API doesn't really feel very Pythonic to me. For example, we write:


rather than mystring.justify(width, "right") or dict.iterate("items"). So I think individual methods is a better API, and one which is more familiar to most Python users. The only innovation (if that's what it is) is to have median a callable object.

As far as having four separate functions, median, median_low, etc., it just doesn't feel right to me. It puts four slight variations of the same function into the main namespace, instead of keeping them together in a namespace. Names like median_low merely simulates a namespace with pseudo-methods separated with underscores instead of dots, only without the advantages of a real namespace.

(I treat variance and std dev differently, and make the sample and population forms separate top-level functions rather than methods, simply because they are so well-known from scientific calculators that it is unthinkable to me to do differently. Whenever I use numpy, I am surprised all over again that it has only a single variance function.)


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