[R] The Origins of R

Thomas Adams Thomas.Adams at noaa.gov
Wed Feb 4 02:00:22 CET 2009


I certainly had that same impression of "mischief making" — I would call 
it trolling with the intent of trying to discredit R, its developers & 
contributors. "Mischief making" indeed!


John Maindonald wrote:
> In another thread on this list, various wild allegations have been 
> made, relating to the New York Times article on R.  I object both to 
> the subject line and to the content of several of the messages, and 
> will not repeat or quote any of that content.  It smacks to me of 
> mischief making.
> Discussion has centered around the following quote from the NY Times 
> article:
> “According to them, the notion of devising something like R sprang up 
> during a hallway conversation. They both wanted technology better 
> suited for their statistics students, who needed to analyze data and 
> produce graphical models of the information. Most comparable software 
> had been designed by computer scientists and proved hard to use.”
> The comment that "the notion of devising something like R sprang up 
> during a hallway conversation" is strictly true.  Certainly, this 
> seems like a very plausible account.  I'd have more difficulty 
> believing that the notion was communicated to them in separate 
> dreams.  Part of the wanted technology was freedom for students to 
> take the software home, or copy it down from the web.
> There was a further story to be told, about the origins of the 
> language that Ross and Robert implemented and adapted.  The NY writer 
> pretty much left out that part of the story (S did get a mention, but 
> its connection with R did not), but did remedy this omission in a 
> follow-up.
> Nor did the article do much to acknowledge the workers and work that 
> has gone into R's continuing development. Getting the attributions 
> "right" is difficult.  Even if "right" according to common conventions 
> (and one can argue as to just what the conventions are, especially in 
> the matter of computer language development), they are unlikely to be 
> totally fair.  Stigler's Law of Eponomy has wide sway!
> In the preface to the first and second edition of "Data Analysis and 
> Graphics Using R", we have:
> "The R system implements a dialect of the S language that was 
> developed at AT&T Bell Laboratories by Rick Becker, John Chambers and 
> Allan Wilks".
> The only 1st edition attribution to Ihaka and Gentleman was in Chapter 
> 12: "For citing R in a publication, use Ihaka and Gentleman (1996)".  
> [NB: Type citation() to see the form of citation that should now be 
> used.]
> That was as it now strikes me unfair to Ross and Robert, but no-one 
> complained.  Perhaps no-one ever read that far through the preface!
> There's an excellent brief summary of the history of R, and its 
> connections with S, in Section 1.4 of John Chambers' "Software for 
> Data Analysis".    Appendix A has further details on the development 
> of S, a kind of pre-history of R.
> John Maindonald             email: john.maindonald at anu.edu.au
> phone : +61 2 (6125)3473    fax  : +61 2(6125)5549
> Centre for Mathematics & Its Applications, Room 1194,
> John Dedman Mathematical Sciences Building (Building 27)
> Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200.
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Thomas E Adams
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