[R] A comment about R:

Gabor Grothendieck ggrothendieck at gmail.com
Tue Jan 3 12:43:26 CET 2006

On 1/3/06, Peter Flom <flom at ndri.org> wrote:
> >>> "Rau, Roland" <Rau at demogr.mpg.de>  >>> wrote
> <<<
> IMO this is a very good proposal but I think that the main problem is
> not the "translation" of one function in SPSS/Stata/SAS to the
> equivalent in R.
> Remembering my first contact with R after using SPSS for some years (and
> having some experience with Stata and SAS) was that your mental
> framework is different. You think in "SPSS-terms" (i.e. you expect that
> data are automatically a rectangular matrix, functions operate on
> columns of this matrix, you have always only one dataset available,
> ...). This is why "jumping" from SPSS to Stata is relatively easy. But
> to jump from any of the three to R is much more difficult.
> This mental barrier is also the main obstacle for me now when I try to
> encourage the use of R to other people who have a similar background as
> I had.
> What can be done about it? I guess the only answer is investing time
> from the user which implies that R will probably never become the
> language of choice for "casual users". But popularity is probably not
> the main goal of the R-Project (it would be rather a nice side-effect).
> >>>>
> As someone who uses SAS qutie a bit and R somewhat less, I think Roland
> makes some excellent points.  Going from SPSS to SAS (which I once did)
> is like going from Spansih to French.  Going from SAS to R (which I am
> trying to do) is like going from English to Chinese.
> But it's more than that.
> Beyond the obvious differences in the languages is a difference in how
> they are written about;
> and how they are improved.  SAS documentation is much lengthier than
> R's.  Some people like
> the terseness of R's help.  Some like the verboseness of SAS's.  SOme of

Note that at least some packages do have vignettes which are lengthier
discussions of the package than the help files, e.g.


> this difference is doubtless
> due to the fact that SAS is commercial, and pays people to write the
> documentation.  I have tremednous
> appreciation for the unpaid effort that goes into R, and nothing I say
> here should be seen as detracting from that.
> As to how they are improved, the fact that R is extended (in part) by
> packages written by many many different
> people is good, becuase it means that the latest techniques can be
> written up, often by the people who
> invent the techniques (and, again, I appreciate this tremendously), but
> it does mean that a) It is hard to know what
> is out there at any given time; b) the styles of pacakages difer
> somewhat.

Regarding (a) note that for certain areas CRAN Task Views
addresses this, at least in part.  See:


and R-News has a section on changes in CRAN which lists all new
packages since the prior issue of CRAN.   See:


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