[R] anti-R vitriol

Roger D. Peng rpeng at jhsph.edu
Tue Jun 29 20:19:20 CEST 2004

I'm not too concerned about your colleague's view about R.  S/He 
doesn' have to like it, and I don't think anyone actually believes 
that R is designed to make *everyone* happy.  For me, R does about 99% 
of the things I need to do, but sadly, when I need to order a pizza, I 
still have to pick up the telephone.

What worries me more is that your colleague seems to have lost sight 
of the fact that just about all software development involves 
tradeoffs.  Although I've never used SAS, I've used other stat 
packages and it's clear that all of them (including R) have traded in 
some things to get out other things.  An example is R's potentially 
large memory usage, which, one might argue, trades in analyses of very 
large datasets but gets out a very powerful and elegant programming 

Rather than use absolutes, I'd encourage your colleague to be more 
specific.  Rather than and say things like "R is poorly designed" I'd 
like to hear "R is poorly designed for [fill in the blank]".  Then we 
can get a better handle on the world in which s/he lives.


Barry Rowlingson wrote:
> A colleague is receiving some data from another person. That person 
> reads the data in SAS and it takes 30s and uses 64k RAM. That person 
> then tries to read the data in R and it takes 10 minutes and uses a 
> gigabyte of RAM. Person then goes on to say:
>   It's not that I think SAS is such great software,
>   it's not.  But I really hate badly designed
>   software.  R is designed by committee.  Worse,
>   it's designed by a committee of statisticians.
>   They tend to confuse numerical analysis with
>   computer science and don't have any idea about
>   software development at all.  The result is R.
>   I do hope [your colleague] won't have to waste time doing
>   [this analysis] in an outdated and poorly designed piece
>   of software like R.
> Would any of the "committee" like to respond to this? Or shall we just 
> slap our collective forehead and wonder how someone could get such a view?
> Barry
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Roger D. Peng

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