TITLE: More on Computational Simulation, Programming, and the Scientific Method AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 24, 2008 6:39 AM DESC: ----- BODY: As I was running through some very cold, snow-covered streets, it occurred to me that my recent post on James Quirk's AMRITA system neglected to highlight one of the more interesting elements of Quirk's discussion: Computational scientists have little or no incentive to become better programmers, because research papers are the currency of their disciplines. Publications earn tenure and promotion, not to mention street cred in the profession. Code is viewed by most as merely a means to an end, an ephemeral product on the way to a citation. What I take from Quirk's paper is that code isn't -- or shouldn't be -- ephemeral, or only a means to an end. It is the experiment and the source of data on which scientific claims rest. As I thought more about the paper I began to wonder, can computational scientists do better science if they become better programmers? Even more to the point, will it become essential for a computational scientist to be a good programmer just to do the science of the future? That's certainly what I heard some of the scientists at the SECANT workshop saying. While googling to find a link to Quirk's article for my entry (Google is the new grep. TM), I found the paper Computational Simulations and the Scientific Method (pdf), by Bil Kleb and Bill Wood. They take the programming-and-science angle in a neat software direction, suggesting that Publishing a test fixture offers several potential benefits, including: These are not about programming or software development; they are about a way to do science. This is a really neat connection between (agile) software development and doing science. The idea is not necessarily new to folks in the agile software community. Some of these folks speak of test-driven development in terms of being a "more scientific" way to write code, and agile developers of all flavors believe deeply in the observation/feedback cycle. But I didn't know that computational scientists were talking this way, too. After reading the Kleb and Wood paper, I was not surprised to learn that Bil has been involved in the Agile 200? conferences over the years. I somehow missed the 2003 IEEE Software article that he and Wood co-wrote on XP and scientific research and so now have something new to read. I really like the way that Quirk and Kleb & Wood talk about communication and its role in the practice of science. It's refreshing and heartening. -----