Thursday, January 31, 2013

How Open Source Could Benefit Academic Research

Most academics are under tremendous pressure to keep anything of potential commercial value closed; releasing code as open-source generally requires permission from above. (In fact, I know of one professor of biology who had to fight to get a line in his contract explicitly allowing him to open-source everything.) And it's not like most of them need encouragement; none of us are getting rich off NIH grants (well, most of us aren't) and we effectively hit a salary ceiling early in our careers, so the prospect of a few thousand dollars extra in licensing revenue is more than most can resist. In several cases that I'm aware of, the licensing money is used to support research activities - sometimes enough to pay for an entire employee, or pay for meetings that wouldn't happen otherwise. Note that in many cases the code itself is still available, just not under a license that allows distribution, which usually makes it difficult or impossible for anyone who wants to build on your work to do so.

Of course it's not always this simple - junior researchers have very little control, so many of us end up releasing code under proprietary licenses when we'd much rather open-source everything. I also know of many cases where paranoia and competitiveness, rather than avarice, are at fault - in these cases, the code itself is hidden and the software released as binary-only (which as far as I'm concerned should be unacceptable for anything published in a peer-reviewed journal, regardless of the license used). Regardless, there are simply too many incentives to retain full control.

This is a completely idiotic situation, of course, and it has been holding back science for years - I know of multiple cases where university researchers were effectively doing R&D for private companies (not always willingly!) with very little in return. I've also seen researchers prevent widespread adoption of their work (and hamper their career advancement) because of tight-fisted behavior. One asshole even charges other academics to obtain his software, with the result that some people avoid using it altogether. Frankly, since I have to deal with this bullshit on a near-daily basis, as far as I'm concerned a repeal of the Bayh-Dole act (and its equivalents in Europe), at least where software is concerned, would be a huge leap forward for academic computational research. The bonus I get from licensing fees is simply not worth the trouble and missed opportunities.


tom brady bradley cooper denver post Beasts of the Southern Wild Scandal denver broncos new england patriots

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.