[R] Should there be an R-beginners list?

Duncan Murdoch murdoch.duncan at gmail.com
Sun Nov 24 21:00:46 CET 2013

On 13-11-24 2:04 PM, Yihui Xie wrote:
> I'm not aware of a discussion on this, but I would say no.
> Fragmentation is bad. Further fragmentation is worse.
> =====
> Actually I'd say all mailing lists except r-devel should be moving to
> StackOverlow in the future (disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with it).

I would generally agree with you, except for a few points.

1.  I avoid StackOverflow, because they claim copyright on the 
compilation.  As I read their terms of service, it would be illegal for 
anyone to download and duplicate all postings about R.  So a posting 
there is only available as long as they choose to make it available. 
Postings to the mailing list are archived in several places.

2.  I think an interface like StackOverflow is better than the mailing 
list interface, and will eventually win out.  R-help needs to do 
nothing, once someone puts together something like StackOverflow that 
attracts most of the people who give good answers, R-help will just fade 

Duncan Murdoch

> Mailing lists are good for a smaller group of people, and especially
> good when more focused on discussions on development (including bug
> reports). The better place for questions is a web forum. Both you and
> I have been staying in these R mailing lists for a few years now. You
> can recall how many times a user was asked to post to another mailing
> list ("this is not an appropriate list to ask your question; please
> post to r-such-and-such instead"), how many times you see something
> like "Alternative HTML removed", how many times you see a post "Bla
> Bla (was: Foo Bar)", and how many times users were reminded "Please
> read the posting guide", "Please do read", and "PLEASE do read". But
> it just does not help much even if you write "PLEASE DO READ".
> Why do we have such problems in the mailing lists again and again? Is
> that simply because users are not respecting the rules? I do not think
> so. I believe that is the flaw of mailing lists. A mailing list is
> managed by a small team (hey, Martin, thank you). On StackOverflow,
> you simply edit the tags of a post to make it belong to a new "mailing
> list" (you can post with tags "r+ubuntu+graphics", or "r+lattice",
> etc). There is no need to request and wait for the system admin to
> make a decision. Users can help themselves, and help others as well.
> HTML can be good in many cases, actually. Who hates syntax
> highlighting and R plots in an R question? You are free to ask a
> question that is poorly formatted, and there are good chances that it
> will be immediately edited by another experienced user. You are free
> to yell in the comments asking for more details before posting a
> formal answer. You can express "ah, this is a bad question" by
> down-voting so that future readers know that guy screwed up and we
> just let the world ignore the noise. It is like peer-review, and the
> reviewers can help you improve your post. In a mailing list, when you
> are done, you are done. You are forever written in history, right or
> wrong, smart or stupid. You want to delete your record in the history?
> No, no, gentleman, it was your fault not reading the post guide.
> For me, I understand all the rationale behind the mailing list model.
> I'm just saying, the primary goal for such a service is to discuss
> issues about R, instead of issues induced by the mailing list itself.
> We could have made some issues not directly related to R go away by
> community efforts instead of giving instructions a million times,
> given an appropriate platform.
> Five years, 42,000 posts: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/r
> I'm not terribly worried about transition from mailing lists to SO.
> Sorry about the generalization of the original topic, but I hate using
> a new title "Should there be R mailing lists? (was: Should there be an
> R-beginners list?)"
> Last but not least, I probably need to clarify that I benefited a lot
> from the mailing lists in the past, and I truly appreciate it. I wrote
> this with the future in mind, not the past. The past was good, and the
> future can be better.
> Regards,
> Yihui
> --
> Yihui Xie <xieyihui at gmail.com>
> Web: http://yihui.name
> Department of Statistics, Iowa State University
> 2215 Snedecor Hall, Ames, IA
> On Sun, Nov 24, 2013 at 11:13 AM, Bert Gunter <gunter.berton at gene.com> wrote:
>> Folks:
>> If this has been previously discussed and settled, please say so and
>> refer me to the discussion. If you believe this to be inappropriate or
>> otherwise frivolous, also please say so, as I do not wish to waste
>> your time or this space.
>> I write as a long time reader and sometimes contributor to r-help. Due
>> to R's growth in usage by a broad data analysis community (engineers,
>> scientists, social scientists, finance, "informaticians", as well as
>> more "traditional" statisticians), this list seems to me to becoming
>> deluged by requests for help by "casual" users and students for whom R
>> is not going to be regularly or extensively used. I would characterize
>> this group as having only basic statistical, programming, and data
>> analysis skills. This is not meant as a criticism, and there are
>> certainly many for whom this is inaccurate. But ...
>> By and large, such users have not spend much time with R's docs,
>> including tutorials or FAQ's. Many of their posts reflect this, and
>> can be answered with basic replies or references to docs, to wit: What
>> is the difference between "ifelse" and "if else"? FAQ 7.31. Confusion
>> of data frames, matrices, and spreadsheet tables; etc.
>> Would it be useful, then, to establish an R-beginners list
>> specifically to absorb this traffic and free up R-help from what I
>> would say was its original intent, to provide a forum for serious,
>> more dedicated R users (Again, no criticism is intended here)?
>> I realize that, whether or not this suggestion is worthwhile, there
>> are several ways it could fail. First, too few might be interested in
>> responding to posts on the new list. Second, too few might consider
>> themselves "beginners" who post to it. Etc. So I would certainly say
>> any such effort ought to be a pilot and tentative .
>> I'll stop here. Again, criticize freely and/or send me off somewhere
>> else to prior discussion. Or to where it should be discussed. Or just
>> ignore, of course.
>> Best,
>> Bert
>> --
>> Bert Gunter
>> Genentech Nonclinical Biostatistics
>> (650) 467-7374
>> ______________________________________________
>> R-help at r-project.org mailing list
>> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-help
>> PLEASE do read the posting guide http://www.R-project.org/posting-guide.html
>> and provide commented, minimal, self-contained, reproducible code.
> ______________________________________________
> R-help at r-project.org mailing list
> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-help
> PLEASE do read the posting guide http://www.R-project.org/posting-guide.html
> and provide commented, minimal, self-contained, reproducible code.

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