Thanks for your prompt and appreciative reply.
For the kind of students I used to teach (no previous computing, statistics
(or even much maths) I'm still not convinced about Stata. Most of them came
from backgrounds in sociology and related subjects and Stata seems to me to
be heavily statistical. From the syntax examples I have seen in Stata, they
would be easily put off. However, modern students are very different: all
have their own computers or laptops and I'm targeting the ones with PCs,
Windows and Word (those with Mac and Linux will have to wait for someone to
convert my tutorials, but there's nothing to stop them having a quick peep).
I can see why some people in "survey research methods" are switching, but
they have a very narrow definition and they're more into the statistical
aspects such as sampling bias, non-response etc, rather than the substance
of the survey. In the UK that has always been a major difference in the
definition of "survey methods". It's unfortunate (a bit like the false
distinction between qualitative and quantitative) but I'm afraid technique
currently has dominance over content in some quarters.
There has also been an interesting exchange between a bunch of Brits on the
relationship of the then Social Science Research Council (funding agency) to
the development of quantitative methods, with special reference to
sociology. Jennifer Platt (Emeritus Prof of Sociology, Sussex) is the
official historian of the Briitish Sociological Association and recently
presented a paper at the World Congress of Sociology, Gothenberg, in a
session for the Resarch Cttee on the History of Sociology about deliberate
attempts to change the direction of sociology. She made the mistake of
contacting me (in my capacity as Editor of Quantitative Sociology
Newsletter, which ceased publication in 1984). I haven't seen her for 20
years, but I have a vivid (if not always 100% accurate) memory and managed
to track down most of the people who were active in promoting or enabling
quantitative methods and/or computing in sociological research in the UK in
the 1970s. Poor Jennifer is now buried in mounds of fascinating, detailed
and learned reminiscences!
Part of this exchange had some snide references to "plumbers" (computer and
statistics people) who could be called in to help out if thought necessary
by the superior intellects of "sociologists". I retorted, "The late Angus
Campbell (Director of ISR, Ann Arbor) once remarked to me that you wouldn't
expect a chemist to work without knowing how to put a retort stand and tubes
together, so why should sociologists not be expected to have at least a few
basic technical skills? At PNL I used to explain my job as teaching
sociologists how to count. At both SSRC and PNL I and my staff upset a lot
of people by turning round jobs in 3 or 4 days (sometimes being specially
called in) that they had been messing about with (wasting taxpayers' money
or funding agency's patience) for months, if not years, too proud or
ignorant to seek advice or assistance: others were eternally grateful, but
you can't please everyone."
There were also some snide comments about research units and centres
springing up like mushrooms to cream off research funds, but that's a whole
new story. If anyone's interested, I can forward the relevant selections.
PS I've copied in parts of other mails so that you and others can make
sense of your reply.
----- Original Message -----
From: Michael N. Mitchell
Sent: Tuesday, August 10, 2010 4:41 AM
Subject: Re: Your paper on Stata,SAS and SPSS
Thank you so much for your email. My apologies for my delay, I have been
many things, including focusing my efforts on my book writing.
I am delighted that you have been engaging this issue of Stata and SPSS
and have been
fostering some cross communication of the communities via the SPSSX and
listservers. Having used both packages for many years and having followed
each list for
quite a while, I know how each community can be very isolated from one
another. And, I
especially understand the issues that the SPSS folks are dealing with and
That is part of the reason for the technical report that I wrote, trying to
take a wider view of what is available. For those who have access to
multiple packages, to
encourage them to use the best of each tools from each package, and for
those who are
using a single package, to consider the alternatives and to consider whether
want to make the effort to switch to another that might, in the long run,
serve you better
than the package that you know. At my work, I have had multiple people make
from SPSS to Stata and very quickly they do not look back. And, the cost
astounding. For the price we pay for one SAS license or the cost of about 2
we get about 30 Stata licenses.
I am no longer with UCLA so cannot assist with "web link exchanges", but
I am sure that
the UCLA stat group would be very interested in this. You can write to them
to A desperate user in Spain whose university will discontinue SPSS 15
next year and not rplace it. She started a huge and ferocious debate on
the on the SPSSX listserver about IBM/SPSS business models etc. In a
reply someone just posted the link to your paper.
I haven't worked through it yet, but from the thoughts in your abstract
and acknowledgments I detect a kindred spirit working in familiar
I have used SPSS on dozens of surveys and thousands of queries since 1972
and am currently working on a stack of learning materials from the
postgraduate Survey Analysis Workshop (part-time, evening) I designed and
taught from 1976 until I (early) retired in 1992.
These were for various releases of SPSS on a range of machines culminating
in SPSS-X 4 on a Vax cluster. Since 2006 I have been updating and
expending these to use with SPSS for Windows on a PC (which involves
conversion from WordStar4 to Word and a switch from DOS to Windows,
neither of which I had ever used before).
Since September last year I have been developing a new website and have
now uploaded a substantial body of entry-level SPSS tutorials, exercises
and specimen answers. They use syntax in preference to the drop-down
menus, but many examples are also repeated using the menus. They are
oriented towards survey research rather than statistics and are aimed at
teachers, researchers and students with little or no previous experience
of statistics (a sort of "Clod's Guide to Survey Analysis Using SPSS").
So far have avoided using a single equation, but that may have to come
when I get round to explaining inferential statistics in the later stages
of the course.
There are many SPSS courses around, but mine is different, and perhaps
more fun. The website is http://surveyresearch.weebly.com/index.html and
as well as SPSS it it also carries a wealth of research reports and other
Many of my colleagues in the UK are now switching to Stata, but I think
SPSS is far more suited to the kind of material I'm handling. However,
I'd be interested in seeing parallel Stata syntax and output for some of
To: Various people in computing, stats and quant method in sociology
Sent: Saturday, August 07, 2010 9:33 AM
Subject: SPSS, SAS and Stata
I've read through the Mitchell article and it is more relevant to
statististical aspects of surveys than to the sorts of things I cover in my
tutorials. It's very thorough, but there are no tables or figures showing
direct comparisons of syntax or output from SPSS, SAS and Stata. I'll add
a link from my site, but I already have one to ATS at UCLA.
Cc: Various people in computing, stats and quant method in sociologySent:
Friday, August 06, 2010 6:31 PM
Subject: Sociologists and plumbers
Just came across this opening paragraph in an article (link posted to SPSSX
listserver by Dirk Enzmann)
There's huge debate going on about the relative merits of SPSS vs Stata and
R, much of it an attack on the IBM/SPSS business model which is beginning to
put SPSS out of the reach of many universities as well as students. Many
users are now switching to Stata, thus losing a whole generation of students
and future users forever. There are some heartbreaking, extensive,
thoughtful and constructive contributions on the thread inexpensive 'home'
version? started by Peter Neenan SPSSX-L@LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
Mitchell, M. N. (2005). Strategically using General Purpose Statistics
Packages: A Look at Stata, SAS and
SPSS (Technical Report Series, Report Number 1, Version Number 1).
Statistical Consulting Group:
UCLA Academic Technology Services. Available at
This report describes my experiences using statistical packages over the
last 20+ years, including my ex-
periences as a statistical consultant at UCLA for more than 11 years. As a
statistical consultant, I have
worked with thousands of researchers and have worked with well over a dozen
packages. In any given day,
I bounce from helping people using Stata, then SAS, then SPSS, or Mplus,
perhaps HLM, maybe LogXact,
perhaps LatentGOLD, maybe MLwiN and so forth. I have seen how certain
packages have certain strengths
and others have certain weaknesses, and that these strengths and weaknesses
fall along a large number of
dimensions. I have come to believe that data analysts are like carpenters
and that statistical software makes
up the tools that we use. A carpenter would not buy a screwdriver and
conclude that his or her toolkit
is complete. Likewise, as data analysts, we may need to draw upon multiple
tools (statistical packages) to
form a complete toolkit based on the kind of work each of us performs.
The article was updated in 2007: he's still working at UCLA and is a regular
contributor to Stata listerver. I thought the carpenter analogy
appropriate, given your remarks about plumbers and sociologists. From the
abstract and his acknowledgments, I detect a kindred spirit working in an
environment not unlike SSRC and PNL.