[R] Rating R Helpers

Mike Prager mike.prager at noaa.gov
Mon Dec 3 19:07:54 CET 2007

"John Sorkin" <jsorkin at grecc.umaryland.edu> wrote:

> I believe we need to know the following about packages:
> (1) Does the package do what it purports to do, i.e. are the results valid?
> (2) Have the results generated by the package been validate against some other statistical package, or hand-worked example?
> (3) Are the methods used in the soundly based?
> (4) Does the package documentation refer to referred papers or textbooks?
> (5) In addition to the principle result, does the package return ancillary values that allow for proper interpretation of the main result, (e.g. lm gives estimates of the betas and their SEs, but also generates residuals)?.
> (6) Is the package easy to use, i.e. do the parameters used when invoking the package chosen so as to allow the package to be flexible?
> (7) Are the error messages produced by the package helpful?
> (8) Does the package conform to standards of R coding and good programming principles in general?
> (9) Does the package interact will with the larger R environment, e.g. does it have a plot method etc.?
> (10) Is the package well documented internally, i.e. is the code easy to follow, are the comments in the code adequate?
> (11) Is the package well documented externally, i.e. through man pages and perhaps other documentation (e.g. MASS and its associated textbook)?
> In addition to package evaluation and reviews, we also need some plan for the future of R. Who will maintain, modify, and extend packages after the principle author, or authors, retire? Software is never "done". Errors need to be corrected, programs need to be modified to accommodate changes in software and hardware. I have reasonable certainty that commercial software (e.g. SAS) will be available in 10-years (and that PROC MIXED will still be a part of SAS). I am far less sanguine about any number of R packages.
> John 

Interesting questions.

Re, the future : LaTeX provides an example. The more complex
packages tend to stop developing when the original programmer
loses interest. Sometimes another person picks one up, but not
frequently. I think, for example, of the many slide-preparation
packages, each more complex than the next, that have come and
gone during my relatively short (15 yr) professional use of

At its root, this is a rather deep question: how open-source,
largely volunteer-developed software can survive over the long
term, while continuing to improve and maintain high standards.
We are rather early in the history of free software development
to know the answer.

Mike Prager, NOAA, Beaufort, NC
* Opinions expressed are personal and not represented otherwise.
* Any use of tradenames does not constitute a NOAA endorsement.

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