jailbreakr: Get out of Excel, free

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Description

One out of every ten people on the planet uses a spreadsheet and about half of those use formulas: "Let's not kid ourselves: the most widely used piece of software for statistics is Excel." (Ripley, 2002) Those of us who script analyses are in the distinct minority! There are several effective packages for importing spreadsheet data into R. But, broadly speaking, they prioritize access to [a] data and [b] data that lives in a neat rectangle. In our collaborative analytical work, we battle spreadsheets created by people who did not get this memo. We see messy sheets, with multiple data regions sprinkled around, mixed with computed results and figures. Data regions can be a blend of actual data and, e.g., derived columns that are computed from other columns. We will present our work on extracting tricky data and formula logic out of spreadsheets. To what extent can data tables be automatically identified and extracted? Can we identify columns that are derived from others in a wholesale fashion and translate that into something useful on the R side? The goal is to create a more porous border between R and spreadsheets. Target audiences include novices transitioning from spreadsheets to R and experienced useRs who are dealing with challenging sheets.

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