Why the Laughing Cow laughs?

Posted in Uncategorized by Julyan Arbel on 7 February 2011

While looking for an R function for circular histograms, I incidentally found an arXived article that studies cattle alignement. I’ve often wondered why cows (very numerous in my native Jura) always look in the same direction. Does the wind bother them and make them look back? or do they all follow a leader? the usual question about cows in Jura is Why the Laughing Cow laughs, it is too much of a big new question not to be shared.

Actually, a theory states that cattle is preferentially aligned along geomagnetic field lines. Those lines are more or less north-south directed. To test that, there is a dataset available online that were collected by… Google Earth screenshots (!) from herds located in several European countries. They register in total the directions of a few thousands of cows.

The authors draw the conclusion that the cattle do not follow a north-south direction in general (see the histogram below). No more than any other preferred direction. But, at the herd level, the animals usually align along a few axes.

By the way, here is a link to circular density plots, and several others for wind rose diagrams, radial plots and stars networks. Anyone knows how to plot circular histograms like those in the article?

8 Responses

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  1. Leif Richardson said, on 11 January 2012 at 17:35

    Did you get any useful responses to this question? I want to make circular histograms of bee collection data binned by two-week periods from January to December. I like the look of the histogram you show here for the cows; did you find R code to do it?

  2. Eoghan said, on 12 April 2012 at 18:52

    See this link for what you want:



    • Julyan Arbel said, on 13 April 2012 at 11:56

      Thanks Eoghan for the link. This is not exactly the same as the above circular histogram: for the sectors in a rose diagram to have an area proportional to the frequency they represent, their radius has to be the square root of the frequency. I find it cognitively misleading and would prefer traditional bars prop to the frequency.

  3. T.H Alanna said, on 1 June 2015 at 16:04

    I love your laughing cow photo. I would like to ask your permission to use it in a children book I’m working on.
    Please let me know if it is possible.

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