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30min: Free software and computer-aided research

Free software and computer-aided research


Computer-aided research is enjoying great popularity among many academic fields. However, a large part of today's computer-aided research is performed with non-free software. In academia there is an additional dimension to the usage of non-free software aside from the issues commonly associated with it. Traditional academic norms include the concept of communality — i.e. sharing so that others may build upon your findings — which in most interpretations implies free software. However, situating software in academia in the broader context of present academic cultures reveals considerable drift from these traditional academic norms. This talk examines reasons for the prevalence of non-free software in research and highlights differences between some disciplines. Particular focus lies on strategies to be adapted from those disciplines that favour free software. A free software working group at a local university serve as case study of how free software may be practically established in public institutions.

This talk does not deal with arbitrary software used in academic institutions but only with software which is involved in the actual act of research. It does not discuss technical attributes of any piece of software but tries to uncover the mechanisms of software usage and software production in academic research. By doing so it presents the underlying political and ethical issue in academia, nowadays discussed under the label open research: Is it necessary to release the software used for research in order to be a good researcher? If so, is this only necessary so others can reproduce your results or is there a moral implication to release this software under a free license so others can reuse and adapt it? In this talk I would like to show some steps how to establish free software in academic institution, pitfalls to look out for and arguments to be ready to counter. Most of these insights I take from personal experience in a number of academic fields which are very diverse regarding the attitude towards free software. However, there are many aspects readily applicable not only to academia but also to other types of institution. I will also discuss likely future actions of distributors of non-free software which target academic institutions and how to be ready for them. By studying actions that we took in the local working group and their results one might see that some high-impact goals can be fairly easy to reach. This is greatly helped by a general willingness to be "open" in academia, as reflected in the open research movement or the open access movement. However, there are some actors involved in academia who are only interested in the positive image connected with the "open" label. In this talk, I will try to present some aspects of this "openwashing" and how it relates to free software.


Day: 2016-09-04
Start time: 10:00
Duration: 00:30
Track: Beyond Code



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