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To learn a programming language is to learn to deal with information and computation in its most general setting.

Problems in real life have a way of being messy and inconvenient; they don't always fit our expectations - and they don't always fit the expectations of our software.

Proposals to eliminate programming have surfaced down through the decades. Many people believe that any tool sufficiently general to be able to handle the proverbial next problem is likely to have a certain minimum level of complexity. With generality and power come unavoidable complexity.

The right tool makes any job easier. We commonly use

Each has its own strengths and weaknesses; as professionals, we strive to understand these and to apply each tool where it is best suited. Nevertheless, it is a common error to use one tool where another is required.

In this class, we concentrate on the fifth of these, namely programming languages. In particular, we will work largely with R, a scripting language and statistics package.

The R project has a homepage, where you may obtain the software and manuals. The manual describes R as a dialect of S, a data analysis language originally developed at AT&T.

Although R differs from S in some ways, the classic books on S are nevertheless quite useful. Here are several books that are worth looking at:

A wonderful book on R itself is available as well:

In the first semester, we will focus largely on the fundamentals of computation, using examples drawn from epidemiology and public health. In the second semester, we will look at more complex models involving stochastic simulation of disease transmission on networks, cost-effectiveness analysis, and demography.

In terms of administrative requirements, I'd like each of you to find an interesting problem in your own work or research that we may apply computation to. Each person will be asked to prepare a short 2 page analysis of the problem of their choice due at the end of the semester. For those taking the class for a letter grade, we will have short weekly problem sets. Our goal is to provide each student with maximum opportunity for challenge and feedback, in a flexible way that meets the needs of working professionals.


Proceed to the class notes.
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