A scientific basis for Open Source Software
Posted May 19, 2012 18:48 UTC (Sat) by pboddie
In reply to: A scientific basis for Open Source Software
Parent article: A scientific basis for Open Source Software
I am a research scientist who does a large amount of source code development. Sharing that code is only infrequently useful to either the public or other scientists.
That is your modest assessment, however. A lot of software, if exposed to the right audience, can benefit substantially from the accompanying exposure and improvements even if the audience is unfamiliar with the problem domain. And people in various domains can often benefit from techniques employed in other domains.
The reproducibility argument is a weak one. The methodologies are described in any paper worth its salt so the software could be (and often should be) rewritten independently. Indeed such a rewrite is a better test of the original results since large codes are hard to rigorously assess if you did not write them. Since the algorithm is published the software SHOULD be reproducible.
I'm not convinced that I've seen a paper outside the computer science domain that fully describes a non-trivial algorithm, although I'll freely admit that I don't read that many papers. My impression is that authors want you to get in contact to find out more and to "collaborate" with them - that appears to be easier than getting a complete algorithm description published.
Several factors exist that frustrate reproducibility and transparency, not limited to competition for funding, politics, publication requirements (both the need to publish and the restrictions around publication), and the temptation to "monetise" research by institutions.
But I agree that independent reimplementations of software systems can be useful in assessing the quality of results and in decoupling a methodology from implementation artifacts. However, I can personally attest that it takes time away from more rewarding work and is arguably a luxury unless one is the sort of researcher that is on such good terms with the funding agencies that one gets money for just about any project regardless of its merits.
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