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What is the best free statistical software available for social science?


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March 24, 2010 11:59PM

There is no "best" package, it really depends on what you need to do, who you need to collaborate with and what your personal preferences are.

Among the free options, one increasingly popular choice is the package "R". R is related to the commercial package S-Plus. R can be a challenge to learn, particularly because it is driven by a command-line interface (although graphical interfaces are available, for example "R Commander"). If you take the time to go through a couple of tutorials, you will be able to do most basic (and many not so basic) types of analysis fairly quickly (less if you already know a programming language); I would recommend working through the short book by Venebles et. al. ("An Introduction to R", available as a free pdf from There are many add on packages that help with analysis of social science data (that is panel and cross-sectional data). R is widely used by statisticians, and it is starting to displace SAS/Stata/SPSS in the social sciences to a limited extent, particularly in economics and psychology. R is a good choice if you intend to interact with statisticians, if you need to write custom routines, if you like to program, if you want support from a large and dynamic user community or if you need to do very high-end statistics.

However, R may not be the best choice for many people, and you have to consider whether you are willing to invest time to learn to use it and if you are willing to endure a steep learning curve.

Also, R is known for having difficulties with very large datasets (more than a few million rows). There are ways to work around this, but they are highly technical. Of course, this isn't an issue for most users.

If you just need to do some basic stats with minimal frustration, you might consider looking at some alternatives, especially PSPP. PSPP is a freeware clone of SPSS. Since most features are available using the user interface (e.g. menus, checkboxes, buttons,...), the software does not have the steep learning curve that R has, so you can be up and running very quickly. PSPP is not as extensible as R, and you do not have quite as much control over the particulars of the analysis you run (at least not via the GUI, but you can write scripts, and PSPP can run scripts written for SPSS). If you need to work with people who use SPSS or if you prefer to use a GUI, you might try PSPP first. Also, PSPP handles very large datasets fairly well, so if you need to process datasets with tens of millions of rows or more, this may be the only freeware choice. A major limitation is that PSPP does not do a great job of handling panel data, which is why it is not very widely used by economists and some other social scientists.

Another option is a package called Vista. It's mainly a statistical visualization package. It is menu driven and is somewhat like JMP (a SAS product) and Tableau, although the visualizations and interface aren't as refined. You may to want download Vista and give it a try.

Most analysts have more than one package in their toolchest, so keep in mind that learning one package does not prevent you from learning a second package later if the need arises. There are other freeware packages out there, but R and PSPP are the most common, and have the largest user support groups.

I have the pleasure to brief on our Data Visualization software "Trend Compass".

TC is a new concept in viewing statistics and trends in an animated way by displaying 5 axis (X, Y, Time, Bubble size & Bubble color) instead of just the traditional X and Y axis. It could be used in analysis, research, presentation etc. In the banking sector, we have Deutsche Bank New York as our client.

Link on Chile's Earthquake (27/02/2010):

This a link on weather data :

This is a bank link to compare Deposits, Withdrawals and numbers of Customers for different branches over time ( all in 1 Chart) :

You can download a trial version. It has a feature to export EXE,PPS,HTML and AVI files. The most impressive is the AVI since you can record Audio/Video for the charts you create.