TITLE: Software is a Means of Communication, Just Like a Research Paper AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: April 30, 2015 6:00 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I can't let my previous post be my only comment on Software in Scientific Research. Hinsen's bigger point is worth a post of its own.
Software is a means of communication, just like papers or textbooks.... much like the math that appears in a paper or a textbook -- except that, done properly, a computer program runs and provides a dynamic demonstration of an idea.
The main questions asked about scientific software [qua software] are "What does it do?" and "How efficient is it?" When considering software as a means of communication, we would ask questions such as "Is it well-written, clear, elegant?", "How general is the formulation?", or "Can I use it as the basis for developing new science?".This shift requires a different level of understanding of programs and programming than many scientists (and other people who do not program for a living) have. But it is a shift that needs to take place, so we should so all we can to help scientists and others become more fluent. (Hey to Software Carpentry and like-minded efforts.) We take for granted that all researchers are responsible for being able to produce and, more importantly, understand the other essential parts of scientific communication:
We actually accept as normal that the scientific contents of software, i.e., the models implemented by it, are understandable only to software specialists, meaning that for the majority of users, the software is just a black box. Could you imagine this for a paper? "This paper is very obscure, but the people who wrote it are very smart, so let's trust them and base our research on their conclusions." Did you ever hear such a claim? Not me.This is a big part of the challenge we face in getting faculty across the university to see the vital role that computing should play in modern education -- as well as the roles it should not play. The same is true in the broader culture. We'll see if efforts such as code.org can make a dent in this challenge. -----