Here is an argument I used to make, but now disagree with:
Just to add another perspective, I find many “performance” problems in
the real world can often be attributed to factors other than the raw
speed of the CPython interpreter. Yes, I’d love it if the interpreter
were faster, but in my experience a lot of other things dominate. At
least they do provide low hanging fruit to attack first.
But there’s something else that’s very important to consider, which
rarely comes up in these discussions, and that’s the developer’s
productivity and programming experience.[…]
This is often undervalued, but shouldn’t be! Moore’s Law doesn’t apply
to humans, and you can’t effectively or cost efficiently scale up by
throwing more bodies at a project. Python is one of the best languages
(and ecosystems!) that make the development experience fun, high
quality, and very efficient.
(from Barry Warsaw)
I used to make this argument. Some of it is just a form of utilitarian programming: having a program that runs 1 minute faster but takes 50 extra hours to write is not worth it unless you run it >3000 times. For code that is written as part of data analysis, this is rarely the case. Now I think it is not as strong of an argument as I previously thought. Now I believe that the fact that CPython (the only widely used Python interpreter) is slow is a major disadvantage of the language and not just a small tradeoff for faster development time.
What changed in my reasoning?
First of all, I’m working on other problems. Whereas I used to do a lot of work that was very easy to map to numpy operations (which are fast as they use compiled code), now I write a lot of code which is not straight numerics. And, then, if I have to write it in standard Python, it is slow as molasses. I don’t mean slower in the sense of “wait a couple of seconds”, I mean “wait several hours instead of 2 minutes.”
At the same time, data keeps getting bigger and computers come with more and more cores (which Python cannot easily take advantage of), while single-core performance is only slowly getting better. Thus, Python is a worse and worse solution, performance-wise.
It is true that programmer time is more valuable than computer time, but waiting for results to finish computing is also a waste of my time (I suppose I could do something else in the meanwhile, but context switches are such a killer of my performance that I often just wait).
I have also sometimes found that, in order to make something fast in Python, I end up with complex code, almost unreadable, code. See this function for an example. The first time we wrote it, it was a loop based function, directly translating the formula it is computing. It took hours on a medium sized problem (it would take weeks on the real-life problems we want to tackle!). Now, it’s down to a few seconds, but unless you are much smarter than me, it’s not trivial to read out the underlying formula from the code.
The result is that I find myself doing more and more things in Haskell, which lets me write high-level code with decent performance (still slower than what I get if I go all the way down to C++, but with very good libraries). I still use Jug (Python-based) to glue it all together, but it is calling Haskell code to do all the actual work.
I now sometimes prototype in Python, then do a kind of race: I start running the analysis on the main dataset, while at the same time reimplementing the whole thing in Haskell. Then, I start the Haskell version and try to make it finish before the Python-analysis completes. Many times, the Haskell version wins (even counting development time!).
Update: Here is a “fun” Python performance bug that I ran into the other day: deleting a set of 1 billion strings takes >12 hours. Obviously, this particular instance can be fixed, but this exactly the sort of thing that I would never have done a few years ago. A billion strings seemed like a lot back then, but now we regularly discuss multiple Terabytes of input data as “not a big deal”. This may not apply for your settings, but it does for mine.
Update 2: Based on a comment I made on hackernews, this is how I summarize my views:
The main motivation is to minimize total time, which is is TimeToWriteCode + TimeToRunCode.
Python has the lowest TimeToWriteCode, but very high TimeToRunCode. TimeToWriteCode is fixed as it is a human factor (after the initial learning curve, I am not getting that much smarter). However, as datasets grow and single-core performance does not get better TimeToRunCode keeps increasing, so that it is more and more worth it to spend more time writing code to decrease TimeToRunCode. C++ would give me the lowest TimeToRunCode, but at too high a cost in TimeToWriteCode (not so much the language, as the lack of decent libraries and package management). Haskell is (for me) a good tradeoff.