[R] R & learning curves. Was RE: R routines vs. MATLAB/SPSS Routines

Chris Evans chrishold at psyctc.org
Fri Oct 26 19:08:18 CEST 2007

Ravi Varadhan sent the following  at 26/10/2007 17:29:
> Please pardon my non-R related response, but I couldn't resist this!  
> I have always felt that the phrase "steep learning curve" is incorrectly
> used.  If one plots "learning" on Y-axis and effort (or time) on the X-axis,
> then the (instantaneous) slope of the learning curve for R should be
> shallower (not steeper) than that of SPSS, which simply means that it takes
> a greater effort or longer time to learn in R.  Of course, the curve would
> be steeper if the axes were to be reversed, but this is not very meaningful,
> and further it will not be a "learning" curve.  If one were to assume that
> the rate of learning is the same for R and SPSS (for an individual), but the
> amount of learning necessary to accomplish a given set of tasks is greater
> in R, then the learning curve is not steeper, but simply higher.

It is Friday afternoon (in the UK) so ... I can't resist either.

... I think the imagery is of mountain walking/climbing and the plot is
an effort plot: work needed to put in to gain a unit increase in ability.

As an amateur (though I like to think, moderately competent)
statistician and psychometrician and an amateur (and, I know, bad)
programmer.  I do think the R learning walk is steep, however it's like
learning to mountaineer properly, not getting taught to hike with no
respect for the mountains and their real dangers and beauties.

I do think there are good books for the R learner now though there is a
problem that many of the people who create R and also many of its
packages/libraries are such brilliant statisticians and programmers that
they do sometimes seem to forget that we beginners need much more help
than they do, or perhaps they think that's for mountain guides and don't
notice that there are few around!

I have resonated strongly with the argument that's been made in a few
posts here recently that the help pages for many aspects of R are way
too terse.  In the past I offered to try to help the help but I've never
really found the time ... which rather underlines the problem sadly:
once you're walking with moderate safety in the lower slopes of what R
offers, you can find yourself so busy that stopping to help others is
... well, not what you do.

I am enormously grateful to those many generous people who created R and
its packages and to the many who do stop and help we less strong climbers!

Sorry Ravi, couldn't resist!

Best wishes and thanks to all,


Chris Evans <chris at psyctc.org> Skype: chris-psyctc
Professor of Psychotherapy, Nottingham University;
Consultant Psychiatrist in Psychotherapy, Notts PDD network;
Research Programmes Director, Nottinghamshire NHS Trust;
*If I am writing from one of those roles, it will be clear. Otherwise*
*my views are my own and not representative of those institutions    *

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