An article attacking R gets responses from the R blogosphere – some reflections

In this post I reflect on the current state of the R blogosphere, and share my hopes for it’s future.

* * *

Background

I am very grateful to Dr. AnnMaria De Mars for writing her post “The Next Big Thing”.
In her post, Dr. De Mars attacked R by accusing it of being “an epic fail” (in being user-friendly) and “NOT the next big thing”. Of course one should look at Dr. De Mars claims in their context. She is talking about particular aspects in which R fails (the lacking of a mature GUI for non-statisticians), and had her own (very legitimate) take on where to look for “the next big thing”. All in all, her post was decent, and worth contemplating upon respectfully (even if one, me for example, doesn’t agree with all of Dr. De Mars claims.)

R bloggers are becoming a community

But Dr. De Mars post is (very) important for a different reason. Not because her claims are true or false, but because her writing angered people who love and care for R (whether legitimately or not, it doesn’t matter). Anger, being a very powerful emotion, can reveal interesting things. In our case, it just showed that R bloggers are connected to each other.

So far there are 69 R bloggers who wrote in reply to Dr. De Mars post (some more kind then others), they are:

  • R and the Next Big Thing by David Smith
  • This is good news, since it shows that R has a community of people (not “just people”) who write about it.
    In one of the posts, someone commented about how R current stage reminds him of how linux was in 1998, and how he believes R will grow to be amazingly dominant in the next 10 years.
    In the same way, I feel the R blogosphere is just now starting to “wake up” and become aware that it exists. Already 6 bloggers found they can write not just about R code, but also reply to does who “attack” R (in their view). Imagine how the R blogosphere might look in a few years from now…

    I would like to end with a more general note about the importance of R bloggers collaboration to the R ecosystem.

    How to start a movement

    In his wonderful (3 minutes) TED talk, Derek Sivers talks about “how to start a movement”:

    One of his most interesting conclusions (in my opinion) is that a movement is not just thanks to it’s leader, but also (if not more) thanks to it’s first followers – the one who make the first guy a leader.

    The implication of that is that if you are a bloggers, and you find someones work (articles) worth while – “follow them”. Write about it (in twitter/facebook or your own blog), support that blogger by commenting. Doing that will only strengthen the impact of the thing you care about.

    I think and believe that Bloggers collaboration is synergistic.
    Bloggers who cross link to each other gain more respect (and thus, traffic and influence) from both search engines (e.g: google) and the traditional media.
    Bloggers coming together, supporting each other with their words, can sometimes make a “news story” suddenly important for the media to report.
    I hope as time will progress, we will have a more interconnected R blogosphere. One that will enable the R community to reach a wider circle of people and influence (in the public and private sector).

    In conclusions the case of the bloggers reply to Dr. De Mars article is (I believe) a sign to whats coming a head – and I feel very optimistic about it :-)

    • http://www.johndcook.com/blog John

      I’m surprised this article caused such a reaction. It’s not even primarily about R; it’s primarily speculation about what the next big thing will be. And almost parenthetically she says she doesn’t think R is it. Maybe the fact that this wasn’t a frontal assault on R underscores how passionate the R community is.

      My favorite line from her article was “I have lived over half a century now and discovered that life holds very few multiple choice tests.”

      • http://www.talgalili.com Tal Galili

        Hi John,

        I agree with what you wrote.
        The reaction is impressive (thus motivating me to write this post), and at the same time underscores the passion of the R community (as you said, probably because it wasn’t “that much” of an assault).

        BTW, please note that the post with which I replied to Dr De Mars post, I didn’t fight off here “attack”, but focused on the question she raised (“what is the next big thing”), and connected that (from my perspective) to R.

        Hope to see you more around,
        Cheers,
        Tal

    • Ralph

      Hi Tal,

      Nice post and I definitely agree with your idea that the R blogging community will be strengthened by discussing each other’s writing and cross-linking articles.

      The R community definitely contains some passionate characters which I think is reflected in the quality and range of available software. There is also probably a weariness in the constant “R is difficult” mantra that gets repeated during discussions of statistical software, in addition to the “R is free” with the implication that this is the only reason why people would use the system. However I will avoid ranting and try and make some useful contributions of my own. ;)

      Keep up your blogging Tal but don’t let your fingers get worn down!

      Best wishes
      Ralph

      • http://www.talgalili.com Tal Galili

        Thank you for the encouragement Ralph, it caries weight.

        Regarding the rest of your comment – I will reply once I’ll have something of value to say :)

        Best wishes,
        Tal

    • patrick

      The reason it is causing such a big deal is because it was a rather pathetically framed argument against R. Nearly every point she made was not backed up by evidence, just an amateur who only knows point and click.

      1- SAS graphics are atrocious. ggplot2 makes better plots than anything the entire SAS team could put together.

      2- You can use the R pkg reshape for your data structuring needs.

      3- R is FREE! How is that not cheaper than SAS?

      4- Maybe if you knew how to use a computer, you could install it. It’s called download and double-click, done.

      5- R can hook into most any type of Database. It can even work with Hadoop.

      6- The SAS language does not even compare to R’s.

      • Mark

        Patrick, if you have no idea why your post comes across as arrogant and obnoxious, I think you need to go back to Social Interaction 101 and reconsider how you address the rest of the world; you do yourself, and your arguments, no favours.

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