# May the force be with the units

Contents

When working with data it’s very important to be aware of the unit of each variable. To make it explicit it’s convenient to use the package called units.

Support for measurement units in R vectors, matrices and arrays: automatic propagation, conversion, derivation and simplification of units; raising errors in case of unit incompatibility.

## A simple example

By reading the help of the starwars dataset, we learn that

• height: Height (cm)
• mass: Weight (kg)

So let’s test it.

library(dplyr)
library(magrittr)
library(units)

starwars %>%
mutate(height = set_units(height, cm)) %>%
mutate(mass = set_units(mass, kg)) %>%
select(name, height, mass, species) %>%

# A tibble: 6 x 4
#   name           height  mass species
#   <chr>            [cm]  [kg] <chr>
# 1 Luke Skywalker    172    77 Human
# 2 C-3PO             167    75 Droid
# 3 R2-D2              96    32 Droid
# 4 Darth Vader       202   136 Human
# 5 Leia Organa       150    49 Human
# 6 Owen Lars         178   120 Human


Note that units are nicely printed in the output.

## Converting units

Imagine I want to draw a bar chart of the 5 first characters of the dataset. But I want the scale to be defined in meters instead of centimeters since it make it cleared to figure out the scale. However, it does not work as is. To make it work the package ggforce is needed and more specifically, the scale_unit function.

library(ggforce)
starwars %>%
mutate(height = set_units(height, cm)) %>%
mutate(mass = set_units(mass, kg)) %>%
select(name, height, mass, species) %>%
ggplot() +
geom_bar(aes(x = reorder(name, -height), y = height,
colour = species,
fill = after_scale(alpha(colour, 0.5))),
stat = "identity", size= 1.5) + # Give a good looking
xlab("name") +
scale_y_unit(unit = "m") + # Doing the conversion
scale_x_discrete(guide = guide_axis(n.dodge = 2)) # To avoid overlapp in names


Thanks to a call to scale_y_unit(unit = "m") I’m able to display the scale in meters.

Note: x = reorder(name, -height) is a trick to sort the bars by value (height in this case).

## Mixing units

If we try to check if height is correlated to weight we obtain this scatter plot.

starwars %>%
mutate(height = set_units(height, cm)) %>%
mutate(mass = set_units(mass, kg)) %>%
select(name, height, mass, species) %>%
drop_na() %>%
ggplot() +
geom_point(aes(x = mass, y = height))


There is a big outlier in this plot. Let’s check who is it?

starwars %>%
mutate(height = set_units(height, cm)) %>%
mutate(mass = set_units(mass, kg)) %>%
select(name, height, mass, species) %>%
drop_na() %>%
filter(mass == max(mass))

# A tibble: 1 x 4
# name                  height  mass species
# <chr>                   [cm]  [kg] <chr>
# 1 Jabba Desilijic Tiure    175  1358 Hutt


It’s Jabba the Hutt. For him it would be also useful to use tons instead of kg! If we remove him we obtain something more conventional.

starwars %>%
mutate(height = set_units(height, cm)) %>%
mutate(mass = set_units(mass, kg)) %>%
select(name, height, mass, species) %>%
drop_na() %>%
filter(mass != max(mass)) %>% # Here is the removal
ggplot() +
geom_point(aes(x = mass, y = height))


His Body Mass Index (BMI)1 should be very bad let’s check it. Thanks to the units package it’s pretty straightforward and explicit.

starwars %>%
mutate(height = set_units(height, cm)) %>%
mutate(mass = set_units(mass, kg)) %>%
# Converting in meters and raising to power of 2
mutate(bmi = mass / set_units(height, m) ^ 2) %>%
select(name, height, mass, bmi, species) %>%
arrange(desc(bmi)) %>%

# A tibble: 6 x 5
#   name                  height  mass       bmi species
#   <chr>                   [cm]  [kg]  [kg/m^2] <chr>
# 1 Jabba Desilijic Tiure    175  1358 443.42857 Hutt
# 2 Dud Bolt                  94    45  50.92802 Vulptereen
# 3 Yoda                      66    17  39.02663 Yoda's species
# 4 Owen Lars                178   120  37.87401 Human
# 5 IG-88                    200   140  35.00000 Droid
# 6 R2-D2                     96    32  34.72222 Droid


Note that the BMI bmi unit is correct: kg/m^2.

1. The BMI is defined as the body mass divided by the square of the body height, and is universally expressed in units of kg/m2, resulting from mass in kilograms and height in meters Wikipedia↩︎