Closing the Gap between Methodologists and End-Users: R as a Computational Back-End

Byron C. Wallace, Issa J. Dahabreh, Thomas A. Trikalinos, Joseph Lau, Paul Trow, Christopher H. Schmid

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The R environment provides a natural platform for developing new statistical methods due to the mathematical expressiveness of the language, the large number of existing libraries, and the active developer community. One drawback to R, however, is the learning curve; programming is a deterrent to non-technical users, who typically prefer graphical user interfaces (GUIs) to command line environments. Thus, while statisticians develop new methods in R, practitioners are often behind in terms of the statistical techniques they use as they rely on GUI applications. Meta-analysis is an instructive example; cutting-edge meta-analysis methods are often ignored by the overwhelming majority of practitioners, in part because they have no easy way of applying them. This paper proposes a strategy to close the gap between the statistical state-of-the-science and what is applied in practice. We present open-source meta-analysis software that uses R as the underlying statistical engine, and Python for the GUI. We present a framework that allows methodologists to implement new methods in R that are then automatically integrated into the GUI for use by end-users, so long as the programmer conforms to our interface. Such an approach allows an intuitive interface for non-technical users while leveraging the latest advanced statistical methods implemented by methodologists.

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