A big idea for better science: a Wikipedia for software code

robotics-computer-software-repository-for-scientistsWhether the field is physics, biology, or neuroscience, chances are that the scientific breakthroughs making headlines today wouldn’t have been possible without some kind of computer programming—including software code fashioned on the fly for the research experiments and analysis at hand.

Here’s the problem and lost opportunity: scientists typically don’t bother to make the source code publicly and permanently accessible to the public, along with their published results.

A big barrier to doing so is that there is no central repository for the source code cited in publications, which also undermines efforts to verify, build on the results, and collaborate. As a result, other researchers may need to reinvent the same software from scratch or buy high-end software costing thousands of dollars.

Writing in Nature, French scientist Jean-Baptiste Moure proposes this solution: let’s create a free, centralized repository for source code—a Wikipedia of software code of, by, and for scientists as well as the public.

The Astrophysics Source Code Library, a volunteer-run registry, fills that need for astrophysics and astronomy research, but it’s specific only to those fields. A comprehensive, open source database could be sponsored by a coalition of universities and scientific journals, with the latter proactively asking research paper authors to also share the software code.

For Moure’s post on his proposal, “Interviews: Big ideas for better science,” Nature (2015).