21 June 2010

Something in the Air: the Open Source Way

One of the most vexed questions in climate science is modelling. Much of the time the crucial thing is trying to predict what will happen based on what has happened. But that clearly depends critically on your model. Improving the robustness of that model is an important aspect, and the coding practices employed obviously feed into that.

Here's a slightly old but useful paper [.pdf] that deals with just this topic:

In this paper, we report on a detailed case study of the Climate scientists build large, complex simulations with little or no software engineering training, and do not readily adopt the latest software engineering tools and tech-niques. In this paper, we describe an ethnographic study of the culture and practices of climate scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre. The study examined how the scientists think about software correctness, how they prioritize requirements, and how they develop a shared understanding of their models. The findings show that climate scientists have developed customized techniques for verification and validation that are tightly integrated into their approach to scientific research. Their software practices share many features of both agile and open source projects, in that they rely on self-organisation of the teams, extensive use of informal communication channels, and developers who are also users and domain experts. These comparisons offer insights into why such practices work.

It would be interesting to know whether the adoption of elements of the open source approach was a conscious decision, or just evolved.

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