[R] R-help mailing list activity / R-not-help?

Robert Sherry rsherry8 at comcast.net
Sun Jan 24 23:27:54 CET 2016

I think this mailing list is wonderful and it has helped me a lot. In 
fact, I am not sure I would be using R today if it was not for this


On 1/24/2016 4:42 PM, Michael Friendly wrote:
> On 1/23/2016 7:28 AM, Jean-Luc Dupouey wrote:
>> Dear members,
>> Not a technical question:
> But one worth raising...
>> The number of threads in this mailing list, following a long period of
>> increase, has been regularly and strongly decreasing since 2010, passing
>> from more than 40K threads to less than 11K threads last year. The trend
>> is similar for most of the "ancient" mailing lists of the R-project.
> [snip ...]
>> I hope it is the wright place to ask this question. Thanks in advance,
> In addition to the other replies, there is another trend I've seen that
> has actively worked to suppress discussion on R-help and move it 
> elsewhere. The general things:
> - R-help was too unwieldy and so it was a good idea to hive-off 
> specialized topics to various sub lists, R-SIG-Mac, R-SIG-Geo,
> etc.
> - Many people posted badly-formed questions to R-help, and so it
> was a good idea to develop and refer to the posting guide to mitigate
> the number of purely junk postings.
> <rant>
> Yet, the trend I've seen is one of increasing **R-not-help**, in that 
> there are many posts, often by new R users who get replies that not
> infrequently range from just mildly off-putting to actively hostile:
> - Is this homework? We don't do homework (sometimes false alarms,
> where the OP has to reply to say it is not)
> - Didn't you bother to do your homework, RTFM, or Google?
> - This is off-topic because XXX (e.g., it is not strictly an R 
> programming question).
> - You asked about doing XXX, but this is a stupid thing
> to want to do.
> - Don't ask here; you need to talk to a statistical consultant.
> I find this sad in a public mailing list sent to all R-help subscribers
> and I sometimes cringe
> when I read replies to people who were actually trying to get
> help with some R-related problem, but expressed it badly, didn't
> know exactly what to ask for, or how to format it,
> or somehow motivated a frequent-replier to publicly dis the OP.
> On the other hand, I still see a spirit of great generosity among some
> people who frequently reply to R-help, taking a possibly badly posed
> or ill-formatted question, and going to some lengths to provide a
> a helpful answer of some sort.  I applaud those who take the time
> and effort to do this.
> I use R in a number of my courses, and used to advise students to
> post to R-help for general programming questions (not just homework) 
> they couldn't solve. I don't do this any more, because several of them
> reported a negative experience.
> In contrast, in the Stackexchange model, there are numerous sublists
> cross-classified by their tags.  If I have a specific knitr, ggplot2, 
> LaTeX, or statistical modeling question, I'm now more likely to post 
> it there, and the worst that can happen is that no one "upvotes" it
> or someone (helpfully) marks it as a duplicate of a similar question.
> But comments there are not propagated to all subscribers,
> and those who reply helpfully, can see their solutions accepted or not,
> or commented on in that specific topic.
> Perhaps one solution would be to create a new "R-not-help" list where,
> as in a Monty Python skit, people could be directed there to be 
> insulted and all these unhelpful replies could be sent.
> A milder alternative is to encourage some R-help subscribers to click 
> the "Don't send" or "Save" button and think better of their replies.
> </rant>

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