Susan Slaughter

What can I use SAS for?

In Everything, Little SAS Book Series, SAS on December 1, 2010 at 11:37 am

According to my site stats someone found this site yesterday by searching for the phrase “what can i use sas for?’

I’m flattered. And I hope they found the answer to their question. Though to be honest, I doubt that anything I have previously written addressed the use of SAS in such broad terms. So let me try to rectify that now.

What can I use SAS for?

Wow, that is a big question!  Most SAS users would probably agree that it would be easier to say what you can’t do with SAS than what you can.

I know, if you are not a SAS user, then you’re probably thinking that that is an incredibly arrogant statement, but please keep reading and then you can judge for yourself.

Here are some things you probably wouldn’t use SAS for:

You probably wouldn’t use SAS to program a robot—unless that robot used a statistical algorithm for it’s guidance.

You probably wouldn’t use SAS to write a cookbook—although I have personally used it to write the indexes for all my books.

You probably wouldn’t use SAS to design a building—unless you were conducting ergonomic research to improve your design.

You get the idea…SAS is a general purpose tool that—with a little imagination—could be applied to almost anything.

SAS is a work horse that is used to crunch through gigantic data bases, the kind that the Census Dept. and credit bureaus have.  But it’s also nimble enough to be used by students in introductory statistics courses.

In short, SAS is a suite of software products for data management, statistical analysis, data visualization and reporting.

True stories:

Anyone who has ever browsed through a copy of The Little SAS Book knows that it is packed with examples.  Some of these examples use real data, but others use data that is purely imaginary.  One of our more outlandish examples concerns the fictitious Fun Times Amusement Park.  I have always considered this to be one of our less believable examples.  However, a couple years ago at SAS Global Forum someone who worked for a major amusement park presented a paper analyzing data not unlike ours.  I thought, “Wait a minute. That can’t be real! We made that up!!!”

Another of our more silly data sets concerns minor league baseball teams with names like the Gilroy Garlics and the Sacramento Tomatoes.  The data didn’t seem terribly believable to me…until we got a question from a reader who was analyzing data for a a very real rugby team.  Here is the bar chart to prove it.

They say that “Life imitates fiction.”  Apparently, it also imitates computer manuals.

Long ago someone on SAS-L asked the question “What does SAS do best?” I remember thinking “SAS does everything the best.” By that I do not mean to say that SAS does every single thing better than any other software package.  What I mean is that if you want a software package that does everything—or at least as close to everything as is computationally possible—then SAS is the best.

Does that mean that SAS is perfect? No.  A friend who is a statistician complains  to me that SAS is not very good for bootstrapping. And the dot plots that SAS produces bear no resemblance to dot plots in statistics text books that I keep running into.  And there is no easy way to get your results from SAS into PowerPoint (although I hear that they working on this last item).

Despite these imperfections, if you have a problem that has something to do with data, then SAS can most likely help solve that problem.

Probably the biggest problem faced by the sales people at SAS Institute is convincing a skeptical world that SAS does indeed do all that it does.

© Susan Slaughter.

  1. Bootstrapping? Here’s an example using SAS: http://blogs.sas.com/iml/index.php?/archives/51-Resampling-and-Simulating-My-Grocery-Bills.html

    And it’s another thing you can use SAS for: analyzing your grocery bills.

    • Regarding bootstrapping, I was just reporting what I had heard–not my own opinion. Also note that my friend said that SAS was “not very good at bootstrapping,” he did not say that you can’t do it at all.

      About dot plots, I should probably add that the ones created by PROC SGPLOT are better than the ones I see elsewhere, but it’s still a problem if you are trying to make some professor happy and he’s expecting some other format.

  2. Regarding your cookbook example: would it surprise you to learn that many of the Version 6 manuals that sit on your bookshelf were written using SAS? SAS/PUBLISH was the first SAS product that I learned when I joined SAS Publications.

  3. Indeed you can do anything with SAS for what it has been created: data management, statistical analysis, data visualization and reporting.

    SAS improves with every release , this time being it SAS 9.2.

    Graphic capabilities these days with SAS are really very good.

    Not to say that statistical performance can be astonishing not only with SAS Stat, but also with SAS IML, not to say also for R users, who can combine and integrate both of both worlds SAS and R.

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