Sh*tty R help from sh*tty AI


March 15, 2024


The rise of R ‘help’ websites written by AI is predatory and shameless. Things will only get worse.

Chatbottom of the barrel

Regular readers know this for sure: I’m not an R expert. I don’t just ‘know’ stuff. I’m DuckGoGoing ‘how to do x in r’ every 10 minutes.

In doing this, I’ve noticed a trend that I want to complain about: I’ve found a few suspicious ‘help websites’ for R appearing high up the search rankings.

Why ‘suspicious’? They’re clearly written with an AI tool. And they’re garbage. In content and ethics.

I’m absolutely not going to name websites here because I do not want to send any traffic there.

Taking you for a sucker

Here’s where they excel. They:


You might be thinking ‘okay, but maybe this is an efficient way of helping people’. To which the obvious retort is ‘okay, no, this is an efficient way to make money by exploiting the clicks of vulnerable learners with low-quality, harmful content’.

How? At least one of these sites suggests it has ‘partners’, which are clearly just affiliate links. They will make a commission if their visitors sign up for a course at the affiliate link.

Reputable companies know they need good product to help drive sales. But the KPI for these fake sites is purely conversions, not ‘people helped’.


These sites seem to have tens (hundreds?) of help pages published on the same day without any attribution to a particular human. Either they have some very efficient staff or they assume no-one will check.

One website includes a ‘package guide’ for every package on CRAN. Wow! But you guessed it: these pages exist only to pad out the site. In this case, each of the 20,000 ‘guides’ was the same AI-generated content, but with the name of the package changed each time. Of course, there are affiliate links at the bottom of each one.

Perhaps most brazen is the poor attention to detail. At least one of these sites retains the sentence:

Certainly! Here are the two sections for adding and to your webpage:

Clearly someone has asked a chatbot for some text and it has obliged. And then they forgot to delete this telltale line from the output before pasting it into their website, lol.


In some cases I found links to these sites as the top search result for fairly generic R queries. Naturally, people will just click the top search results willy-nilly. These must be the best sites if they’re top of the rankings, right?

But no. Google is, of course, gameable as heck and you can be manipulated for clicks with search-engine optimisation (SEO) hacks.

These sites haven’t ‘earned’ their ranking by producing high-quality advice. They’re not there because other people are linking to them as a mark of endorsement.

Why this sucks

Feels obvious that this garbage is harmful, but for the benefit of the doubt, my concerns are as follows:

  1. Who are they stealing from?
  2. How much of the code is hallucinatory?
  3. Is this ruining learners’ understanding?

It’s pretty common knowledge that many AIs are trained on data without the consent of original creators. How much content on these pages is stolen from people without their consent? Maybe it slurped up some of your material against your will.

These sites also have code where the examples literally cannot be run; the syntax cannot be evaluated if copy-pasted into an R terminal. At least one of these sites was offering advice for {ggplot2} without ever showing an example plot.

I’ve been searching the internet for R-related stuff1 for many years and can separate the wheat from the chaff, I reckon. But not everyone can. How can a beginner user know what’s wrong if they copy and paste trash from a shameless website like this?

Suck it up

Bottom line: this is scummy.

I’m asking that you take two seconds to think ‘could this be a fake website?’ Consider the telltale signs:

  • suspicious wording and accidentally-undeleted verbiage copied from the output of an LLM (large language model) query
  • obvious links to affiliate sites
  • code that doesn’t run when you copy it to your machine
  • examples of code, but no output
  • crappy AI-generated images that fill space (probably Corporate-Memphis-style abominations showing a generic 30-something white guy at a computer who is probably called Matt2)

Maybe I don’t need to warn you about this. It’s 2024. I grew up in a slower-paced learning environment of floppies and CD ROMs. Times have changed. You’re smart.

Don’t patronise these sites by clicking affiliate links; patronise them with condescension. It’s all we can do.


There’s a more proactive step you can take to avoid irritant sites: Jason suggested on Mastodon to create a custom search of R-related domains that you trust.


James (of quarto-webr fame) has created a package called {searcher} that lets you submit queries from the R console to a variety of search engines. It includes search_rseek() so you can search R-specific sites via


Session info
Last rendered: 2024-03-27 16:46:50 GMT
R version 4.3.1 (2023-06-16)
Platform: aarch64-apple-darwin20 (64-bit)
Running under: macOS Ventura 13.2.1

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time zone: Europe/London
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  1. Although putting ‘r’ in your search terms often ends up with links to subreddits. Do try to avoid being sucked down an r/ProgrammerHumor black hole.↩︎

  2. I can say this because it’s my exact description.↩︎