[R] Protocol for answering basic questions

Thomas Lumley tlumley at u.washington.edu
Wed Dec 1 18:48:29 CET 2004

On Wed, 1 Dec 2004, Robert Brown FM CEFAS wrote:

> I have been following the discussions on 'Reasons not to answer very 
> basic questions in a straightforward way' with interest as someone who 
> is also new to R and has had similar experiences.  As such it with 
> sadness that I note that most seem to agree with the present approach to 
> the responses to basic questions.

I think the term "basic questions" in this thread is unfortunate. Many of 
the questions at issue are actually quite complex and advanced, but are 
asked very frequently.

If someone says they have read, to pick a frequent example over the past 
few days, FAQ 7.21, and doesn't understand it or can't work out how to 
apply the advice, they are likely to get a friendly and detailed answer. 
I wrote that FAQ answer and I know that it doesn't contain everything you 
might possibly need to know.  On the other hand, if someone doesn't appear 
to have read the FAQ, I will respond "See the FAQ" or (if I remember the 
number "See FAQ 7.21").  Other people may respond more forcefully; they 
are usually people who spend more time than I do on answering questions.

If someone says they can't understand a particular section of "An 
Introduction to R", again, they will get a much more friendly response 
than if they don't appear to have even looked at it.  I learned S-PLUS 
from an earlier version of that document (as a MSc student with no 
statistical qualifications at all), and while it is helpful, it could 
certainly be expanded.

Incidentally, the suggestion elsewhere in this thread that the R community 
should decide whether it wants new users seems to reflect a complete 
misunderstanding of the situation.  The "R community" has no 
decision-making procedure and a hugely diverse range of views on almost 
every topic (except perhaps the relative usefulness of SPSS and R). It 
can't decide anything and probably couldn't agree if it tried to.

My personal view is that a separate mailing list for low-level questions 
would probably not be useful (this issue has been raised before), but I am 
not stopping anyone from setting one up, and I'm sure that if one were 
started the CRAN maintainers would be willing to post information about 
subscribing, link to archives, etc.  The list doesn't have to be hosted by 
Martin Maechler and ETH Zurich just because r-devel and r-help are.


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