[R] R-help mailing list activity / R-not-help?
Mark.Fowler at dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Mon Jan 25 13:23:16 CET 2016
I'm glad to see the issue of negative feedback addressed. I can especially relate to the 'cringe' feeling when reading some authoritarian backhand to a new user. We do see a number of obviously inappropriate or overly lazy postings, but I encounter far more postings where I don't feel competent to judge their merit. It might be better to simply disregard a posting one does not like for some reason. It might also be worthwhile to actively counter negative feedback when we experience that 'cringing' moment. I'm not thinking to foster contention, but simply to provide some tangible reassurance to new users, and not just the ones invoking the negative feedback, that a particular respondent may not represent the perspective of the list.
From: R-help [mailto:r-help-bounces at r-project.org] On Behalf Of Michael Friendly
Sent: January 24, 2016 5:43 PM
To: Jean-Luc Dupouey; r-help at r-project.org
Subject: Re: [R] R-help mailing list activity / R-not-help?
On 1/23/2016 7:28 AM, Jean-Luc Dupouey wrote:
> Dear members,
> Not a technical question:
But one worth raising...
> The number of threads in this mailing list, following a long period of
> increase, has been regularly and strongly decreasing since 2010,
> passing from more than 40K threads to less than 11K threads last year.
> The trend is similar for most of the "ancient" mailing lists of the R-project.
> I hope it is the wright place to ask this question. Thanks in advance,
In addition to the other replies, there is another trend I've seen that has actively worked to suppress discussion on R-help and move it elsewhere. The general things:
- R-help was too unwieldy and so it was a good idea to hive-off specialized topics to various sub lists, R-SIG-Mac, R-SIG-Geo, etc.
- Many people posted badly-formed questions to R-help, and so it was a good idea to develop and refer to the posting guide to mitigate the number of purely junk postings.
Yet, the trend I've seen is one of increasing **R-not-help**, in that there are many posts, often by new R users who get replies that not infrequently range from just mildly off-putting to actively hostile:
- Is this homework? We don't do homework (sometimes false alarms, where the OP has to reply to say it is not)
- Didn't you bother to do your homework, RTFM, or Google?
- This is off-topic because XXX (e.g., it is not strictly an R programming question).
- You asked about doing XXX, but this is a stupid thing to want to do.
- Don't ask here; you need to talk to a statistical consultant.
I find this sad in a public mailing list sent to all R-help subscribers and I sometimes cringe when I read replies to people who were actually trying to get help with some R-related problem, but expressed it badly, didn't know exactly what to ask for, or how to format it, or somehow motivated a frequent-replier to publicly dis the OP.
On the other hand, I still see a spirit of great generosity among some people who frequently reply to R-help, taking a possibly badly posed or ill-formatted question, and going to some lengths to provide a a helpful answer of some sort. I applaud those who take the time and effort to do this.
I use R in a number of my courses, and used to advise students to post to R-help for general programming questions (not just homework) they couldn't solve. I don't do this any more, because several of them reported a negative experience.
In contrast, in the Stackexchange model, there are numerous sublists cross-classified by their tags. If I have a specific knitr, ggplot2, LaTeX, or statistical modeling question, I'm now more likely to post it there, and the worst that can happen is that no one "upvotes" it or someone (helpfully) marks it as a duplicate of a similar question.
But comments there are not propagated to all subscribers, and those who reply helpfully, can see their solutions accepted or not, or commented on in that specific topic.
Perhaps one solution would be to create a new "R-not-help" list where, as in a Monty Python skit, people could be directed there to be insulted and all these unhelpful replies could be sent.
A milder alternative is to encourage some R-help subscribers to click the "Don't send" or "Save" button and think better of their replies.
Michael Friendly Email: friendly AT yorku DOT ca
Professor, Psychology Dept. & Chair, Quantitative Methods
York University Voice: 416 736-2100 x66249 Fax: 416 736-5814
4700 Keele Street Web: http://www.datavis.ca
Toronto, ONT M3J 1P3 CANADA
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