SOFA Statistics: An Interview with developer Dr. Grant Paton-Simpson

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Dr. Grant Paton-Simpson

This time we bring you an interview with Dr. Grant Paton-Simpson the developer of SOFA (Statistics Open For All) a statistics and reporting application. Grant has a PhD in Sociology and has provided database and analysis services to the gambling treatment sector continuously since 1997. Have a good read!

F4S: Hi Grant. Please, give us a brief introduction about yourself.

I have been a data analyst and researcher since the mid 90s, mainly in the health sector. Was an SPSS user from about 1989. Discovered that most analysis in many sectors is very rudimentary (simple descriptive tables, maybe a barchart, possibly a t-test). Thought there would be a gap for a program that makes the 20% of functionality used 80% of the time very easy to use. I have four children but still find enough peace and quiet to think and program. Badminton makes a nice change from sitting in front of a keyboard.

F4S: What is SOFA Statistics?

SOFA (Statistics Open For All) is a user-friendly statistics, analysis, and reporting program. It is free and open source, of course, with an emphasis on ease of use, learn as you go, and beautiful output.

F4S: Why and when did SOFA come to be?

I’d had the idea of making an analysis application for many years. I used to refer to it as the “octopus” with the ability to put its tentacles into a variety of different databases and extract results. It was once I became an experienced Python developer that I decided to give it a go, and bit by bit it became SOFA. SOFA can import data from a range of different spreadsheets and can dynamically link to SQLite, MySQL, PostgreSQLL, CUBRID, MS Access, and MS SQL Server databases. There is nothing like being able to think of an improvement you’d like to see in a program you rely on – and being able to bring it into being as quickly as you are able.

F4S: In which language(s) and platform(s) is the project developed?

Python (with wxPython as the GI toolkit) with packages for Windows, Mac, Ubuntu, and other Linux distros.

F4S: Does SOFA have sponsors?

Not at present.

F4S: How many users you estimate SOFA Statistics have?

I really don’t know but on Sourceforge it has passed the 100,000 downloads milestone some time ago. On the one hand you have to exclude existing users downloading multiple times, and people using SOFA temporarily. On the other there are other ways of getting SOFA than Sourceforge e.g. from teachers, via heise online etc.

F4S: Do you know where SOFA Statistics is used?
I have some idea from the support emails I receive. Some examples to illustrate: the lead researcher in an Asian genetics lab, an agricultural statistician in New Zealand, a nutrition teacher in the French part of East India, a geotechnical researcher in Israel, a Freelance researcher in Sweden, a professor of children’s health in the US, and a student at a Brazilian university. Some rely on SOFA for everything they need; others use SOFA for some tasks e.g. pumping out lots of attractive exploratory tables.

F4S: How many team members does the project have?
Basically it is just me with help on a few things (gratefully received) from others. Often an individual will help me nail down a bug intensively for a while and then it is solved. There have also been a number of people providing translations, and J. David Eisenberg deserves special mention for the videos he has made.

F4S: In what areas of SOFA’s development do you currently need help?
I would like to add some new tests e.g. around regression, or multivariate ANOVAs but I need some reliable, trustworthy open source Python libraries I can include.

F4S: What features are in the roadmap?
My next priority is to add some more plug-in extensions around the open source core. I have already created export output functionality that makes it easy to export reports as high-quality images and or PDFs ready to put into documents or slideshows. And there is also a plug-in for exporting data tables to spreadsheet. In keeping with the SOFA ethos of statistics open for all, prices have been kept low, and there are student discounts to make sure no-one misses out. In case of hardship, I have invited people to email me directly for a free copy of the relevant plug-in.

F4S: Which projects, blogs or sites related to open source software for science can you recommend?
I have a list of links here: http://www.sofastatistics.com/help.php but here are two to give a taste:

I should also give http://www.statschat.org.nz/ a plug as well.

F4S: Why do you consider free/libre open source software important for the advancement of your field?

There is something about the spirit of enquiry which doesn’t sit well purely commercial imperatives. Far too often there are costly pay-walls around the tools and resources people need to explore and understand. I am a big fan of open source and it has been good to see it becoming more and more widespread.

F4S: Is there any other topic you would like our readers to know about?
I’ll make a quick plug for learning Python as a way of opening up access to a wide range of very powerful scientific tools.

F4S: Where people can contact you and learn more about SOFA Statistics?

F4S: Thank you Grant and success to you and this project.

More SOFA videos at http://www.sofastatistics.com/videos.php

Note: If you liked this interview you can Flattr it at the top of the post!


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