The influences that shaped R: Inferno-ish R

June 1, 2012

(This article was first published on Revolutions, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

Patrick Burns, author of the excellent R Inferno, gave a presentation about R at the Cambridge R User Group this week. (Revolution Analytics is a proud sponsor of CambR.) I wasn’t at the presentation myself, but Pat always gives a great talk, and he’s generously provided his slides with copious notes. They’re definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the history of R and the influences that led it to be the language and community it is today.

Pat begins with how R began as an experimental offshoot from S (there’s an adorable 1990’s-era photo of R’s creators Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman in Auckland on page 23, reproduced below), and then evolved into a language used first interactively, and then for programming. The tensions between the two modes of use led to some of the quirkier aspects of R. (Pat’s moral: “if you want to create a beautiful language, for god’s sake don’t make it useful”.)

Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman. Photo courtesy Ross Ihaka.

Pat also describes how the R community evolved and influenced R, and also provides a fitting and deserved tribute to the members of R-core that oversee the project:

Brian Ripley has worked an incredible amount on R.  See, for instance:

If Ross and Robert were the parents of R, then Martin Maechler was the midwife. As far as I know he was very influential in R being born to the world.

There are a lot of people in the world named John Chambers. But this is in fact the same John Chambers whose name is on all of the S books. That John is a member of R core is one of the most interesting statements about R that I know of.

This selection is by no means meant to denigrate the other members of R Core. I failed in my attempt to find a list of R core members.

I’m sure Pat won’t mind me pointing out that you can find a current list of R-core members at the R-Project website.

I thouroughly recommend spending 10 minutes reading through Pat’s presentation Inferno-ish R — if nothing else, it will help you follow his lead and “Relax and Embrace the Chaos that is R”.

PortfolioProbe: Inferno-ish R

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