It is 8:23am on a sunny Saturday morning here on campus in Surrey, (BC – not go get mixed up with my British friends who live in the original city of Surrey) and the birds are up, and probably there is a Bee buzzing around somewhere too as you would think it is April or May around here. I am here because I have no choice. If I want to pass my exam coming up this Wednesday in my Statistics class, I have to be here. It boils down to software and textbooks, or the lack there of.
Here is my rant:
There is a big battle among many institutions and their students and faculty members on what is, or should be, the accepted tool/product for statics. Right now in my class it is SPSS, which is a wonderful tool for spitting out any statistical information you need from your hard earned data, but it is not cheap, and as I found out, it is not the only game in town. To buy the licences for SPSS, with all of its modules and updates, it is a whopping $800.00 to get it working for one year. On the other side of the coin, there is “R,” which does exactly the same thing, and many have argued that it is less buggy that SPSS. R, is free under the GNU/ Open Source agreement, so there is no real intensive for the creators to push their ware, other than the textbooks. SPSS textbooks are about the same price as the ones for R, but SPSS seems to go through more revision than R, so their textbook list are always updating. I can hear the cash registrar ringing louder and louder as I type this out.
I am very familiar with R as I have worked with it for several years now. SPSS is a challenge because it is very different to use and operate, and its look and feel is like ridding a Volkswagen with no shocks when compared to R, the Ferrari, as I see it. Part of the problem is Micro$oft, since 80 percent of the computers on campus have it installed, there is a natural tendency for the Window$ salesmen to push the statistical Micro$oft product along with it. And when you are limited to running homogeneous software for that O.S., you will get the hook, line, and sinker with an $800.00 gorilla attached to it.
In the free world, the standard is set higher with R as I see more and more people running it for their research needs. R seems to be, in my world, the standard. But I am puzzled why I read that places like MIT, in the U.S., R is the software to use in research, while in my humble little University, SPSS is the benchmark. Oddly enough from the two comparisons I did, R and SPSS give you are same answers, and you still have to use a third-party software because each still has a lousy graph creation tools. The problem is that data sets are non compatible between R and SPSS.
I am on campus because I cannot run SPSS at home because I do not have the $800.00 to use it. Sure there are lots of illegal copies of SPSS floating around, but I am past that stage in my life. I have R, but it is totally useless to my prof if she can’t open my data up to mark it. I am also behind because I could not initially afford all of the textbooks at the beginning of the semester. For the first half of January I managed to live on $82.55 because the rest of my budget went to getting 3/4 of the needed textbooks. On my last pay day, on week three of the semester, I finally got the last textbook, the SPSS book at a cost of $170.00. Now you know why I am so behind on my studying—it is very tough to do without textbooks when you can’t study for the assignments and exams.
I’m not going to use the world scam here because I know University is really only for those who can afford it. I do have the option of dropping the course and waiting for another instructor who would hopefully use another piece of software, with cheaper textbooks, but we are not getting any younger here—right. But I can make one guarantee, I will not be using SPSS in the real world, it is R for me all the way baby!