[R] Use of R in clinical trials

Frank E Harrell Jr f.harrell at Vanderbilt.Edu
Thu Feb 18 15:01:20 CET 2010

I really like both of your responses.  To add to Peter's thoughts, I've 
found that more than half of SAS programmers can learn modern 
programming languages given a push.  And if pharmaceutical companies 
ever knew the true cost of SAS in terms of their having to hire more 
programmers to deal with an archaic language they would be astonished. 
Rumor had it that Pfizer's yearly SAS licensing costs were $14M/year 
several years ago.  Programmer costs were probably in the same range.


Bill.Venables at csiro.au wrote:
> I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think Peter is being a bit harsh on SAS.  
> I prefer Greg Snow's analogy (in the fortune collection): If SPSS (or SAS) and R were vehicles, SPSS would be the bus, going on fixed routes and efficiently carrying lots of people to standard places, whereas R is the off-road 4WD SUV, complete with all sorts of kit including walking boots, kayak on the top, &c.  R will take you anywhere you want to go, but it might take you longer to master it than the simple recipes for data analysis typical of the 'bus' programs.
> Bill Venables
> CSIRO/CMIS Cleveland Laboratories
> -----Original Message-----
> From: r-help-bounces at r-project.org [mailto:r-help-bounces at r-project.org] On Behalf Of Peter Dalgaard
> Sent: Thursday, 18 February 2010 5:55 PM
> To: Frank E Harrell Jr
> Cc: r-help at r-project.org; Cody Hamilton
> Subject: Re: [R] Use of R in clinical trials
> Frank E Harrell Jr wrote:
>> Cody,
>> How amazing that SAS is still used to produce reports that reviewers 
>> hate and that requires tedious low-level programming.  R + LaTeX has it 
>> all over that approach IMHO.  We have used that combination very 
>> successfully for several data and safety monitoring reporting tasks for 
>> clinical trials for the pharmaceutical industry.
>> Frank
> There is a point to it, though. One of my friends and colleagues in the 
> business put it in one word: Mediocrity.
> SAS does a mediocre job at analysing and reporting and data handling 
> using a mediocre control language. But: It can be handled by mediocre 
> programmers writing and modifying mediocre programs, and those people 
> are more available and replaceable, maybe even cheaper. R/LaTeX may run 
> circles around SAS in terms of capapilities, flexibility, and elegance, 
> but it can also send a programmer who doesn't have the required skill 
> set running around in circles.
> -pd
>> Cody Hamilton wrote:
>>> Dear all,
>>> There have been a variety of discussions on the R list regarding the 
>>> use of R in clinical trials. The following post from the STATA list 
>>> provides an interesting opinion regarding why SAS remains so popular 
>>> in this arena: 
>>> http://www.stata.com/statalist/archive/2008-01/msg00098.html
>>> Regards,
>>> -Cody Hamilton

Frank E Harrell Jr   Professor and Chairman        School of Medicine
                      Department of Biostatistics   Vanderbilt University

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