Open Source, Open Science in 1999

This post originally appeared on the Software Carpentry website.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... Actually, it was 1999, and the venue was Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York—it just feels like a different time and place. The event was a conference called "Open Source, Open Science", and Stephen Adler, Tom Throwe, and Sean McCorkle have very kindly resurrected its web site at for those interested in the history of an idea whose time may finally have come. It's interesting to see what has changed in the intervening decade, and what hasn't: supercomputing is still disproportionately represented, but I think the open side has won the debate that was the subject of the main panel discussion, "Overcoming the using and contributing to Open Source technologies."

What I remember most from the conference, though, was a professor from somewhere in the Midwest saying, "This is all very noble, but in reality, if I spend two or three years developing a software package while my pre-tenure rivals are cranking out results, then make that software open so that they can crank out even more results, I'm committing career suicide, because I won't get any credit for their use of my software." Nobody had a good answer then; sadly, I don't think anyone has a good one now, either. As I rediscovered during my three and a half years at the University of Toronto, big organizations' own rules often don't allow people working for them to do the right thing...

And if you're interested in the history of the idea of openness in science, Michael Nielsen has provided a couple of pointers:

You've probably already seen it, but if not you may like to take a look at some of Paul David's work, of which is an interesting starting point. He's been writing on many aspects of open science, including the history, for 20 odd years. Also, if you haven't seen it, Peter Suber's "Open Access Timeline" is a superbly useful overview of some parts of open science since the 1960s: [ed.: now at]. When I'm looking up historical stuff, those are both treasure troves, which I've personally barely touched the surface of....

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