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RE: st: Stata vs SPSS

From   "Clive Nicholas" <>
Subject   RE: st: Stata vs SPSS
Date   Sun, 15 Oct 2006 20:22:32 +0100 (BST)

Nick Cox replied:

> Well, yes and no in my view. One general reason behind
> many of the more positive comments in this thread is
> that StataCorp (and its predecessors) have maintained
> a very steady market focus on researchers and their
> needs and desires.
> Conversely, many a statistical program has lost its
> way to a greater or lesser extent -- as far as researchers
> are concerned -- insofar as it has gone for a wider
> business market. I really am not clear that you
> can go for both without major loss.
> Similarly, various people have commented that for many
> purposes they need to switch to other software (e.g.
> MS Excel) for other things. This really doesn't sound
> a source of surprise! I suppose it is flattering that
> some Stata users seem to want to do everything in a
> project in Stata.
> I am often reminded in these discussions of Dennis
> Ritchie's semi-apocryphal comments when he was repeatedly
> asked why C -- famously lean and mean, like Stata in its
> youth -- didn't include this feature or that feature:
> "If you want PL/1, you know where to find it." PL/1
> was, by comparison, a relative behemoth, but where
> is it now?

Difficult to dissent from any of this (especially as I've never heard of
PL/1 before!). Let me come back and add some more comments.

On balance, I think you're right that StataCorp shouldn't be in the
business of prostituting itself at the altar of the private sector. If
commerce and industry can't see why Stata would be of benefit to them,
then frankly that's their lookout (but it may have consequences for those
statistically-minded individuals who are looking for jobs in the private
sector but may have to settle working with packages they know to be
inferior for one reason or another). I suspect Stata's lack of 'market
penetration', for the want of a better experession, isn't just down to
StataCorp's retience about getting involved in a fight it senses it can't
ultimately 'win', but also because

(a) businesses aren't fully aware of the alternatives to SPSS (and MS Excel)
    and that some of them might be better; and
(b) businesses can't be bothered to look for any other alternatives, due
    more to complacency than anything else.

On this, I know whereof I speak. I remember having a casual webroom
conversation with a lady who told me that she worked as a market analyst
in the City of London (and probably still does). It went something like

Me:  "Oh really? So you try and predict market movements, do you?"
Her: "Yup."
Me:  "Wow! So tell me; do you use time-series methods for prediction?"
Her: "Er, nooooo."
Me:  "Um, OK. So what do you use, then?"
Her: "Nothing other than our professional intuition. We stick a finger in
      our mouth, take it out, hold it up in the air, and judge which way the
      wind's blowing."
Me:  "Right. Don't you think you should be using something more, um,
      scientific, maybe?"
Her: "No. Why should we when this works just as well? We've had lots of
      young, 'wet-behind-the-ears' kids come to us trying to teach us all
      this crap before, and we soon sent them packing."

The discourse went downhill from there. With attitudes like this, no
package that aims to be more comprehensive than MS Excel can hope to take
a slice of the commerical cake, as it were, either here in the UK or

Of course, this isn't the only problem that Stata faces, because it also
faces what one might call 'barriers to entry' those parts of the private
sector that are already accustomed to using statistical packages as part
of their work, notably market research. In this sector, SPSS have been
rolling out a specially-tailored package called SPSS-MR for a number of
years now, and these companies - who normally do little more than
crosstabulations, pie charts and maybe a bit of cluster analysis - have
snapped them up by the shedload. As Richard Williams rightly says, if all
you're going to use a stat-package for is counting tallies, run bar charts
and maybe the odd bit of OLS, then why should StataCorp engage in a battle
for business that it may lose (in wasted dollars?) in the long run?

Some may see this view as a defeatist, but one has to look at it from
their point of view.

CLIVE NICHOLAS        |t: 0(044)7903 397793
Politics              |e:
Newcastle University  |

Whereever you go and whatever you do, just remember this. No matter how
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