I hadn’t corresponded with Frank Harrell in about six months, but had to ping him after his pithy forum response to the article on R in the NY Times. Begrudging the meteoric rise in open source R’s popularity, a VP from proprietary statistical software market leader SAS noted: “I think it addresses a niche market for high-end data analysts that want free, readily available code … We have customers who build engines for aircraft. I am happy they are not using freeware when I get on a jet.” To which Frank deadpanned: “It’s interesting that SAS Institute feels that non-peer-reviewed software with hidden implementations of analytic methods that cannot be reproduced by others should be trusted when building aircraft engines.” Touché.

I’d written about Frank in a previous Information Management article, after meeting him in person and taking his Regression Strategies short course at useR!2007 in Ames, Iowa. Even before that conference, I felt I knew him pretty well. I use his Hmisc and Design R packages all the time, and regularly learn from his informative wiki. And Frank is one of perhaps a dozen or so esteemed R forum participants I religiously follow – regardless of topic. Frank and I are about the same age, but he’s the teacher and I’m the student.

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