[R] The hidden costs of GPL software?

John Fox jfox at mcmaster.ca
Tue Nov 23 14:48:28 CET 2004

Dear Duncan,

I don't think that there is an automatic, nearly costless way of providing
an effective solution to locating R resources. The problem seems to me to be
analogous to indexing a book. There's an excellent description of what that
process *should* look like in the Chicago Manual of Style, and it's a lot of
work. In my experience, most book indexes are quite poor, and automatically
generated indexes, while not useless, are even worse, since one should index
concepts, not words. The ideal indexer is therefore the author of the book.

I guess that the question boils down to how important is it to provide an
analogue of a good index to R? As I said in a previous message, I believe
that the current search facilities work pretty well -- about as well as one
could expect of an automatic approach. I don't believe that there's an
effective centralized solution, so doing something more ambitious than is
currently available implies farming out the process to package authors. Of
course, there's no guarantee that all package authors will be diligent


John Fox
Department of Sociology
McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario
Canada L8S 4M4

> -----Original Message-----
> From: r-help-bounces at stat.math.ethz.ch 
> [mailto:r-help-bounces at stat.math.ethz.ch] On Behalf Of Duncan Murdoch
> Sent: Monday, November 22, 2004 8:55 AM
> To: Cliff Lunneborg
> Cc: r-help at stat.math.ethz.ch
> Subject: Re: [R] The hidden costs of GPL software?
> On Fri, 19 Nov 2004 13:59:23 -0800, "Cliff Lunneborg"
> <cliff at ms.washington.edu> quoted John Fox:
> >Why not, as previously has been proposed, replace the current static 
> >(and, in my view, not very useful) set of keywords in R 
> documentation 
> >with the requirement that package authors supply their own 
> keywords for 
> >each documented object? I believe that this is the intent of the 
> >concept entries in Rd files, but their use certainly is not 
> required or 
> >even actively encouraged. (They're just mentioned in passing in the 
> >Writing R Extensions manual.
> That would not be easy and won't happen quickly.  There are some
> problems:
>  - The base packages mostly don't use  \concept. (E.g. base 
> has 365 man pages, only about 15 of them use it).  Adding it 
> to each file is a fairly time-consuming task.
> - Before we started, we'd need to agree as to what they are for.
> Right now, I think they are mainly used when the name of a 
> concept doesn't match the name of the function that 
> implements it, e.g.
> "modulo", "remainder", "promise", "argmin", "assertion".  The 
> need for this usage is pretty rare.  If they were used for 
> everything, what would they contain?
>  - Keywording in a useful way is hard.  There are spelling 
> issues (e.g. optimise versus optimize); our fuzzy matching 
> helps with those.
> But there are also multiple names for the same thing, and 
> multiple meanings for the same name.
> Duncan Murdoch
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