Introduction to Statistics (MAT/SST 115.03 2008S)

Why R?


Why are we using the open-source statistics package, R, rather than Minitab (which the other sections are using) or some other proprietary statistics package? There are a number of reasons.

R supports multiple platforms. Minitab runs only on Microsoft Windows machines. R, on the other hand, runs on at least three common platforms: Microsoft Windows, Macintosh OS X, and Linux. By using R, we permit students to work on problems on their own computers, whether or not the run Microsoft Windows.

R is free. In contrast, a one-semester student license for Minitab is about $30.00 and the full commercial version of Minitab is nearly $1200.00. I hope that after you complete the class (and after you graduate Grinnell), you will occasionally find it useful to do some small (or large) statistical analyses. You will always be able to use R.

R is open source. That is, R is produced by a group of programmers who believe that software and the ideas embodied in that software should be shared freely. I, like the other members of Grinnell's Department of Computer Science, subscribe to that perspective, and believe that this perspective corresponds to aspects of the College's mission that speak to social justice.

R is extensible. If there's a statistical analysis that R doesn't provide, you can extend R to provide it. While I wouldn't expect most Grinnell students to have the skills to extend R, there is a huge cadre of R users who like to help each other.

R is real statistics software. R, like Minitab (and SAS and SPSS and ...) is used by many professional statisticians.

Why Not R?

I hope you find the previous reasons compelling. However, if there are so many good reasons to use R, why is this the only section to use R? I think my colleagues have good reasons to use Minitab.

Minitab may be easier for novices to use. Minitab provides a WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointing device) interface. R, in contrast, uses a more traditional textual interface. Many novices find it easier to figure out what to do using a graphical user interface.

Grinnell has a large Minitab community. This large community makes it easier to get help and advice.

Faculty who teach with Minitab often use it in their own research. Their experience with Minitab makes them much better teachers.

From my perspective, the prior benefits of R outweigh the benefits of Minitab, particular since I'm not a regular Minitab user, and find that Minitab tends to get in my way when I use it. At the end of the semester, we'll reflect on how easy (or hard) R was to use.

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Samuel A. Rebelsky, rebelsky@grinnell.edu

Copyright (c) 2007-8 Samuel A. Rebelsky.

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