[R] A long digression on packages

Chris Evans chris at psyctc.org
Mon Jun 6 12:46:28 CEST 2005

On 5 Jun 2005 at 18:44, Jari Oksanen wrote:

> There are diverse opinions about netiquette. One of the most basic, in
> my opinion, is this: if someone posts starts a discussion in a certain
> forum, you shall not divert it to another forum where it may be hidden
> by most readers, perhaps even by the originator of the thread.

With the greatest of respect for Duncan and the R-devel list, I think 
Jari has a point here.  This is one of the most important issues I've 
seen raised on this list (R-help) in recent months and I think it may 
be a structural problem for the development of R, in common with that 
of much FLOSS s'ware, that there's a separation of users and authors 
that needs thought.  There are no perfect answers but too big a 
separation and projects go "techno" and it's hard for those of us who 
can't code C and who are mere "users" to help those outstanding 
people on whom we depend hear what we need: sometimes they are so 
clever, so specialised in their knowledge, or simply in the realm of 
genius not the ordinary, that they can't see our problem.  I have 
slowly come to respect that a pretty brusque style from our 
authorities is the only way to prevent this list being a madhouse but 
I think that Jim's point may fall into that class that is worth some 
duplicate bandwidth here.

I know I've found the problem Jim highlights very confusing and 
unhelpful at times.  Views, which I didn't know, seem helpful but not 
a real solution to the key problem: they may tangentially help by 
ensuring that if your needs fit into a view, it becomes more likely 
that you'll install the packages you need and a local search may tell 
you what you need.  I've taken the inefficient route which suits me 
of installing just about every package to make it less likely I'll 
miss something of use to me. That means my search for "kappa" and 
"Cohen" (with ignore.case=FALSE) turns up at least three 
implementations of aspects of Cohen's kappa.

It may already exist, but a web interface that did a help.search over 
all the packages in the current release version would be great.  (If 
it does exist, sorry, but I'm no dunce and use R nearly every day and 
try to read much of r-help every day and don't know it, which may say 

I think there may be a need for some R improvement and automated 
updating of what I think is Frank Harrell's function finder:
Though I'm not absolutely sure how fitting your works into something 
like that could be imposed on developers!

Another thing that might help would be for a system by which ordinary 
users would volunteer to pair up with developers for packages and try 
to suggest adaptations of the help and such like that might make the 
packages more user friendly.  I wouldn't want to do that for the 
whole of a huge and vital package like MASS or Hmisc (or base or 
stats!) but I'm up for pairing with a developer on a smaller package 
if anyone thinks that would be helpful.

Thoughts for what they're worth.  Thanks a million to all developers 
... asbestos suit on!

Chris Evans <chris at psyctc.org>
Consultant Psychiatrist in Psychotherapy, Rampton Hospital; 
Research Programmes Director, Nottinghamshire NHS Trust, 
Hon. SL Institute of Psychiatry
*** My views are my own and not representative of those institutions 

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