1 Let’s toss a coin

To illustrate the concepts behind object-oriented programming in R, we are going to consider a classic chance process (or chance experiment) of flipping a coin.

In this chapter you will learn how to implement code in R that simulates tossing a coin one or more times.

1.1 Coin object

Think about a standard coin with two sides: heads and tails.

two sides of a coin

Figure 1.1: two sides of a coin

To toss a coin using R, we first need an object that plays the role of a coin. How do you create such a coin? Perhaps the simplest way to create a coin with two sides, "heads" and "tails", is with a character vector via the combine function c():

You can also create a numeric coin that shows 1 and 0 instead of "heads" and "tails":

Likewise, you can also create a logical coin that shows TRUE and FALSE instead of "heads" and "tails":

1.2 Tossing a coin

Once you have an object that represents the coin, the next step involves learning how to simulate tossing the coin.

Tossing a coin is a random experiment: you either get heads or tails. One way to simulate the action of tossing a coin in R is with the function sample() which lets you draw random samples, with or without replacement, of the elements of an input vector.

Here’s how to simulate a coin toss using sample() to take a random sample of size 1 of the elements in coin:

You use the argument size = 1 to specify that you want to take a sample of size 1 from the input vector coin.

1.2.1 Random Samples

By default, sample() takes a sample of the specified size without replacement. If size = 1, it does not really matter whether the sample is done with or without replacement.

To draw two elements WITHOUT replacement, use sample() like this:

What if you try to toss the coin three or four times?

Notice that R produced an error message. This is because the default behavior of sample() cannot draw more elements than the length of the input vector.

To be able to draw more elements, you need to sample with replacement, which is done by specifying the argument replace = TRUE, like this:

1.3 The Random Seed

The way sample() works is by taking a random sample from the input vector. This means that every time you invoke sample() you will likely get a different output.

In order to make the examples replicable (so you can get the same output as mine), you need to specify what is called a random seed. This is done with the function set.seed(). By setting a seed, every time you use one of the random generator functions, like sample(), you will get the same values.

1.4 Sampling with different probabilities

Last but not least, sample() comes with the argument prob which allows you to provide specific probabilities for each element in the input vector.

By default, prob = NULL, which means that every element has the same probability of being drawn. In the example of tossing a coin, the command sample(coin) is equivalent to sample(coin, prob = c(0.5, 0.5)). In the latter case we explicitly specify a probability of 50% chance of heads, and 50% chance of tails:

However, you can provide different probabilities for each of the elements in the input vector. For instance, to simulate a loaded coin with chance of heads 20%, and chance of tails 80%, set prob = c(0.2, 0.8) like so:

1.4.1 Simulating tossing a coin

Now that we have all the elements to toss a coin with R, let’s simulate flipping a coin 100 times, and then use the function table() to count the resulting number of "heads" and "tails":

In my case, I got 56 heads and 44 tails. Your results will probably be different than mine. Sometimes you will get more "heads", sometimes you will get more "tails", and sometimes you will get exactly 50 "heads" and 50 "tails".

Let’s run another series of 100 flips, and find the frequency of "heads" and "tails" with the help of the table() function:

To make things more interesting, let’s consider how the frequency of heads evolves over a series of n tosses (in this case n = num_flips).

With the vector heads_freq, we can graph the (cumulative) relative frequencies with a line-plot:


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