[Rd] Competing with one's own work

Prof. John C Nash nashjc at uottawa.ca
Fri Dec 3 16:57:21 CET 2010

No, this is not about Rcpp, but a comment in that overly long discussion raised a question
that has been in my mind for a while.

This is that one may have work that is used in R in the base functionality and there are
improvements that should be incorporated.

For me, this concerns the BFGS, Nelder-Mead and CG options of optim(), which are based on
the 1990 edition (Pascal codes) of my 1979 book "Compact numerical methods...", which were
themselves derived from other people's work. By the time Brian Ripley took that work (with
permission, even though not strictly required. Thanks!) there were already some
improvements to these same algorithms (mainly bounds and masks) in the BASIC codes of the
1987 book by Mary Walker-Smith and I. However, BASIC to R is not something I'd wish on

Now there are some R packages, including some I've been working on, that do offer
improvements on the optim() offerings. I would not say mine are yet fully ready for
incorporation into the base, but they are pretty close. Equally I think some of the tools
in the base should be deprecated and users encouraged to try other routines. It is also
getting more and more important that novice users be provided with sensible guidance and
robust default settings and choices. In many areas, users are faced with more choice than
is efficient for the majority of problems.

My question is: How should such changes be suggested / assisted? It seems to me that this
is beyond a simple feature request. Some discussion on pros and cons would be appropriate,
and those like myself who are familiar with particular tools can and should offer help.

Alternatively, is there a document available in the style "Writing R Extensions" that has
a title like "How the R Base Packages are Updated"? A brief search was negative.

I'm happy to compete with my own prior work to provide improvements. It would be nice to
see some of those improvements become the benchmark for further progress.


John Nash

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