[R] A comment about R:

JRG loesljrg at verizon.net
Tue Jan 3 17:35:56 CET 2006

On 3 Jan 2006 at 7:35, Thomas Lumley wrote:

> On Mon, 2 Jan 2006, Philippe Grosjean wrote:
> >
> > That said, I think one should interpret Mitchell's paper in a different
> > way. Obviously, he is an unconditional and happy Stata user (he even
> > wrote a book about graphs programming in Stata). His claim in favor of
> > Stata (versus SAS and SPSS, and also, indirectly, versus R) is to be
> > interpreted the same way as unconditional lovers of Macintoshes or PCs
> > would argue against the other clan. Both architectures are good and have
> > strengths and weaknesses. Real arguments are more sentimental, and could
> > resume in: "The more I use it, the more I like it,... and the aliens are
> > bad, ugly and stupid!" Would this apply to Stata versus R? I don't know
> > Stata at all, but I imagine it could be the case from what I read in
> > Mitchell's paper...
> I think there are good reasons why Stata is becoming much more popular in 
> epidemiology and biostatistics [and I'm not particularly prejudiced 
> against R]. In my experience people who like R also like Stata, though 
> clearly the reverse is not necessarily true.
> Stata, like R, is readily programmable.  Users can -- and do -- write 
> and distribute programs that look just like the built-in routines.  There 
> is an active and helpful mailing list. However, Stata programming is very 
> different from R programming, since it is macro-based (think Tcl/Tk) 
> rather than function-based.
> Stata is also easier to learn: it has a very consistent syntax and even 
> better documentation than R.  We use Stata for all our service course 
> teaching, and despite the fact that it is command-line based rather than 
> GUI the students were no more unhappy than when SPSS was used for the 
> lowest-level courses and Egret for the higher-level service courses. 
> [Stata now has a GUI but it is awful and quite a lot of students prefer 
> the command-line]
>  	-thomas

I'll offer a Second to Thomas's motion.

I like R but I find Stata much easier to teach in service courses.  For most of my students, the Stata learning curve is much more 
tolerable than that of R (at a reduction in capability, of course).  I state on Day 1 that I think R is the world's best package, 
and that Stata is my choice for a very acceptable compromise --- for most purposes.  A few students go on to write their own Stata 
programs, and a few go on to learn R and love it.  

But the vast majority of my students learn enough Stata to get through the courses, and afterward they do whatever their advisor 
wants them to do (the First Law of Graduate School).  For a sizable fraction (maybe 25%), that also proves to be Stata, as there is 
a solid core of Stata users among the faculty here.

I'l also agree that Stata's GUI is ghastly; most of my students (both during courses and any later use) quickly adapt to using 
Stata's command line, and they use it quite effectively.


John R. Gleason
Associate Professor

Syracuse University
430 Huntington Hall                      Voice:   315-443-3107
Syracuse, NY 13244-2340  USA             FAX:     315-443-4085

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