[R] Dose of Reality re: SAS vs R

Marc Schwartz MSchwartz at MedAnalytics.com
Tue Dec 21 00:21:12 CET 2004

On Mon, 2004-12-20 at 10:38 -0800, Berton Gunter wrote:
> R folks:
> I appreciate and have learned from the recent "SAS vs R" and "Bad Excel
> Calculations" threads. Not only civil, but even at times erudite,
> discussion. So I apologize for the lateness of this remark and hope it isn't
> redundant or trivial.
> To those who may wonder why SAS is so dominant in the clinical arena despite
> (better) alternatives: INERTIA. That is:
> 1) There is a huge infrastructure of SAS code already in place for
> regulatory submissions and SAS programmers to maintain and enlarge it. As a
> practical matter, it is hard to imagine a large organization simply chucking
> this and starting afresh. Clearly, change -- if were to occur at all --
> would have to be slow and incremental.
> 2) From my experience at presentations of recent biostatistics PhD's, for
> most, their education continues to promulgate the use of SAS in
> clinical/regulatory settings, undoubtedly due to 1).
> 3) As has already been noted, most existing FDA regulators -- statisticians
> and clinicians alike -- are familiar with SAS, and therefore submissions
> with other software (like R) might delay or complicate the review process.
> We statisticians are not the biggest dogs in this arena, after all.
> Reality bites! So R users must persevere.

Since the notion of inertia was raised by Bert, for those interested in
at least one theory on the adoption of technology and product life
cycles (if one considers R as a software technology), the book "Crossing
the Chasm" by Geoffrey Moore might be of interest.

The Amazon.com link is:


and a very brief Wikipedia overview is here, with a diagram:


In many respects, the general and increasing adoption of open source
applications fits the theory well. One might consider the growth of
Linux and more recent specific examples of applications such as Firefox
and Thunderbird as replacements for Internet Explorer and Outlook
Express (anybody see the two page Firefox ad in the New York Times).

The potential impact of this particular theory, with respect to change,
was importantly noted when the National Academy of Sciences' Institute
of Medicine published a book as part of their Health Care Quality
Initiative, calling it "Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System
for the 21st Century":


Another book, which I think dovetails with Moore's book, is "Only the
Paranoid Survive" by Andy Grove, the Chairman of the Board at Intel. In
some cases, the catalyst for crossing the chasm might be a shift in
marketplace dynamics, which sees a market leader falter when they fail
to effectively react to the shift, enabling a new company, technology or
product to take the leadership position.

Grove calls these situations "strategic inflection points", with a
meaning taken from the mathematical term. If the company properly reacts
to the shift, they experience new positive growth possibly under a
substantially altered business model. If they fail to react, they begin
a slide downhill, possibly to never recover or regain their dominance.

The Amazon.com link for Grove's book is:



Marc Schwartz

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