This petition has two broad goals:
To educate researchers and funding agencies about the benefits of the Open Source, Free Software development model
To begin a broad discussion around the issues of public funding and Open Source scientific software
and one specific goal:
- To motivate the federal funding agencies to create a joint position statement on how they intend to handle Open Source Software.
In particular, it is not a goal of this petition to force researchers into immediately releasing all their software Open Source, but instead we seek to be a spark that ignites the community as a whole to decide how best to implement the intent of the petition.
Please realize that this petition is not intended as a finished policy document. Before this petition could be enacted into law, there are many important details that would have to be resolved. We welcome anyone to point out issues which are unsolvable, or which would create conflicting solutions, but so far, we believe that all the issues raised against the petition have been details of implementation, and not issues that would prevent enactment of the petition.
We hope that the support for this petition motivates the federal funding agencies reconsider their current policies and create a joint policy document from this material. In the creation of such a document, there will be many important implementation details which must be resolved before a workable solution could be attained. It is not the role of this petition to solve those details, but merely to identify what the important ones are, and show that they are not so great as to be unsolvable.
It is a goal of OpenInformatics.org to be a central collection point of information about Open Source scientific software, and how it relates to public funding.
Without further ado, we present:
Keep Publicly-Funded Research Public
We, the undersigned, believe that software developed as part of publicly-funded research should be released under Open Source or Free Software licenses. This will benefit the public by promoting both the pace and progress of science by encouraging open and verifiable peer-reviewed research and the reuse of previously reviewed software. Please show your support by signing the petition
The primary goal of most funding agencies (e.g. NSF and NIH ) is to promote the progress of science. Part of the way they accomplish this is by requiring the research they fund to be published in peer-reviewed journals. In this fashion, discoveries are subjected to quality control, and the methodologies and results are made available for others as a basis for future research.
Unfortunately, while many projects develop software to support their research, the source code to this software is only occasionally published. Software plays a large and growing role in scientific research. Modern science uses software to simulate complex systems, collect data, and to analyze the results of experiments.
We feel that public distribution and critical examination of software source code are critical to the progress of science.
What We Want
When money from public research grants is used to develop software, that software should be published under an Open Source or a Free Software license, as a condition of funding. Such licensing is the software equivalent of peer-reviewed publication of research results.
The first obvious benefit of mandatory software source release is a speedup of software development. Rather than “reinventing the wheel” by duplicating the work of other software projects, researchers will have a pool of publicly developed software to build from.
The longer-term benefit is that the software can be studied and reviewed in the same way as the other parts of scientific research. Software flaws can cause as misleading results in the same way as sloppy protocols or faulty math. Exposing all the scientific process to peer review can only lead to better science.