Open is not Enough

July 5, 2012

In a recent paper published in the Open Access Journal Frontier in NeuroInformatics, Yaroslav Halchenko and Michael Hanke raise awareness about the need for moving one step forward towards building common computing platforms for scientific research.

The authors state:

“the development model of many neuroscience research software projects is broken. Inefficient and opaque procedures combined with a scarce developer workforce result in tools of insufficient quality and robustness that we rely on to conduct our research. Moreover, as the scientists, students, and research groups responsible for these tools move on to new tasks, their software is often left in a state of limbo, with no continued support for bug fixes or sufficiently coordinated maintenance. Over time, changes in underlying computing environments break the tools completely, and they commonly become abandoned – with costly consequences for the scientists depending upon them.”

And propose a pragmatic solution:

“To address this problem, we need to bring our tools further into the open, and consolidate development efforts on an open and community-driven platform – one that is capable of providing easy access, installation, and maintenance for any research software. Such effort will not only help to improve aspects of software engineering, but also meet many unfulfilled requirements toward the goal of practical open science.”

The proposed platform is the Debian Blend, which builds upon the strengths of the Debian Linux distribution:

neurodebian logo Neuro-Debian 

A specialized Linux distribution such as NeuroDebian is much more that just a collection of software. The developers who package the distribution take great care on verifying:

  • Copyright and Licensing
  • Standards of Software Quality and Security
  • Versioning
  • Proper Configuration
  • and most importantly: Compatibility and Interoperability.

Thanks to all that hard work, researchers who adopt Neuro-Debian benefit from having a software platform with hundreds of useful applications, that are all configured properly and can be used together.

This is yet another example illustrating that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. Having access to a fully-equipped platform that provides compatible state-of-the-art applications is a powerful boost to researchers, and it is a solid step towards implementing Open Science as a practical reality.

Highly recommend this paper for any supporters of Open Science.

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