[open-science] Open tools for creating knowledge: proposal and question

Alexandre Hannud Abdo abdo at member.fsf.org
Tue Jul 5 14:05:50 UTC 2016

Ni! Hello Heather, Kshitiz,

I'm all for trying the idea, but I doubt the effectiveness of talking
companies into switching their business model. The reasons are simple:

* most products don't have universities as their main market
 (SPSS is part of IBM's business intelligence products, chemistry and
health software target the health sector, etc)
* those products that have academia as only target may, within their
company, share code with products not targeted at academia
* proprietary software usually has further proprietary dependencies owned
by third-parties
* proprietary software often uses code they don't have the rights for,
because nobody outside the company ever sees the code

This is not meant to directly discourage, but to inform you of the kind of
issues you'd be dealing with.

On the other hand, compared to academic publishing, alternative
implementations spring faster and would benefit a lot from university
support. That is the case even for research hardware. Moreover researchers
face less negative pressure to adopt new tools than they face, for example,
in changing their choice of joural for publication. The main barriers for
the individual are really know-how and usability (meaning usage habits, not
necessarily ease of use).

PSPP and R are classic examples you already mentioned. And more recenty but
growing in importance is SciPy, Pandas and a host of other Python based
research tools, propelled by the fact that Python has become the preferred
language for teaching programming in many universities.

There are institutions such as Software Carpentry, the Software
Sustainability Institute, and the Free Software Competence Center Network,
that have been promoting the adoption of FLOSS (Free/Libre Open-Source
Software) in academia in general. There are several departments, academic
or mixed societies, and grants supporting software development in specific
fields. A recent message to this list was from OSGeo, where you can find
good examples.

So I would rather focus university level support and inter-institutional
coordination - both of which are rare in this area - towards developping
and adopting these alternatives, rather than trying to negotiate with
current proprietary vendors. At the same time, keeping the door open for
arrangements like the one you proposed, for those vendors that do rely on
universities and can realistically make their product open.



On Tue, Jul 5, 2016 at 6:23 AM, kshitiz khanal <khanal1990 at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hello Dr. Morrison,
> I agree with you. Commitment of university and funding agencies will
> definitely foster open knowledge practices.
> At my university - Kathmandu University, which is not that
> resourceful, R is gaining momentum in recent years. Training on R, a
> user group, discussions are happening inside the university.
> Businesses at Kathmandu have also picked up scent. They are announcing
> new training packages. My friends who use GIS are also using R for
> mapping and other efforts.
> Open source is mostly a necessity here, but it's welcome. We love it.
> Our open source software and open knowledge / data community is
> passionate and vibrant.
> Regards,
> Kshitiz Khanal
> Open Knowledge Nepal
> On Tue, Jul 5, 2016 at 3:18 AM, Heather Morrison
> <Heather.Morrison at uottawa.ca> wrote:
> > As a researcher it is my perspective that proprietary tools with
> limiting licenses for generating new open knowledge* (such as Statistical
> Package for the Social Sciences or SPSS and NVIVO) are unnecessary barriers
> to conducting research and teaching research skills. The reasons these are
> unnecessary barriers is because of the potential of  what we might be able
> to achieve if the resources that go into purchase of these products were to
> be redirected to funding support for open source versions such as PSPP
> (alternative to SPSS). For me, this is true even at a well-resourced
> university like the University of Ottawa. Licenses for these tools are tied
> to particular computers. For this reason, the tools tend to be most
> available to students in labs, which are not always readily available with
> the exception of students / classes where these are a proven need. T his
> makes teaching use of the tools and the processes that they facilitate in
> classes or research where the tools might be desirable but not enough of a
> clear need to pay for the licenses much less tempting. If this is the case
> in a wealthy country like Canada, how much more problematic is this in a
> poor country?
> >
> > Proposal: universities and research funders everywhere commit to
> switching from proprietary to free open source research tools within a
> specified timeline. Companies that develop proprietary tools would be
> eligible to propose a switch from pay-for-license to
> pay-for-open-source-development.
> >
> > For the entrepreneurs and technically inclined people on this list, this
> could open up some interesting business and/or work opportunities.
> >
> > Question: am I behind on this issue? Is someone already doing this or
> has looked into this? I realize that some governments have made commitments
> to open source.
> >
> > *  I prefer the term “open knowledge” or open scholarship rather than
> open science because not all knowledge is or should be science. Either are
> more inclusive both of the actual type of work and the people who do the
> work who do not necessarily think of themselves as scientists.
> >
> > best,
> >
> > --
> > Dr. Heather Morrison
> > Assistant Professor
> > École des sciences de l'information / School of Information Studies
> > University of Ottawa
> > http://www.sis.uottawa.ca/faculty/hmorrison.html
> > Sustaining the Knowledge Commons http://sustainingknowledgecommons.org/
> > Heather.Morrison at uottawa.ca
> >
> >
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