16 June 2013

Open source and free-to-use

I've just returned from a trip to Latvia and after discussions there was reminded of the value of open source, freely available/usable software. Of course while working in South Africa I was acutely aware of this but after living in the Netherlands for a while one gets spoilt (and lazy). What do I mean? Unless your definition of Science is such that it is restricted to the "wealthier western world" e.g.

  • Windows is not free

  • MATLAB (and especially it's toolboxes) are not free

  • academic access to commercial software is not free

  • publishing in open access journals is not free

Even though it is more difficult, takes more time and could even be career counter productive, I believe that development in Life Science software (a foundation/basic activity) should be as unrestricted (widely available) as possible.

The question of course is how does one try to convey this to funders, reviewers etc - who are embedded in a more affluent environment - that this is a valid consideration.

A more general question is whether it is worth the effort of developing a freely available tool when one can quickly whip up the code in something like MATLAB (or any other software based on a commercial platform)? In the end this starts to look like more like an ethical question e.g. "Science and Society"  than a practical one. of course whether practicing research Scientists should be concerning themselves with this sort of dilemma is up to the individual.

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