A physics software repository

12/04/2011

Scientific publishing has undergone a significant revolution after Paul Ginsparg introduced arXiv. Before this great idea, people doing research used to send preprints of their works to some selected colleagues for comments. This kind of habit was costly, time consuming and reached very few people around the World until the paper eventually went through some archival journal. Ginsparg’s idea was to use the web to accomplish this task making widely known papers well before publication to all the community. This changed the way we do research as it is common practice to put a paper on arXiv before submission to journals. This has had the effect to downgrade the relevance of these journal for scientific communication. This is so true that Perelman’s papers on Poincaré conjecture never appeared on literature, they are just on arXiv, but the results were anyhow generally acknowledged by the scientific community. This represents an extraordinary achievement for arXiv and shows unequivocally the greatness of Ginsparg’s idea.

Of course, research is not just writing articles and get them published somewhere. An example is physics where a lot of research activity relies on writing computer programs. This can happen on a lot of platforms as Windows, Mac, Linux or machines performing parallel computations. Generally, these programs are relegated to some limited use to a small group of researchers and other people around the World, having similar problems, could be in need of it but are forced to reinvent the wheel. This happens again and again and often one relies on the kindness of colleagues that in some cases could have not the good will to give away the software. This situation is very similar to the one encountered before arXiv come into operation. So, my proposal is quite simple: People in the scientific community having the good will to share their software should be stimulated to do so through a repository that fits the bill. This could be easily obtained by extending arXiv itself that already contains several papers presenting software written by our colleagues that, aiming to share, just put there a link. But having a repository, it could be easier to maintain versions as already happens to paper and there would be no need to create an ad hoc site that could be lost in the course of time.

I do not know if this proposal will meet with success but it is my personal conviction that a lot of people around the World has this need and this could be easily realized by the popularity of certain links to download programs for doing computations in physics. This need is increasingly growing thanks to parallel computation made available to desktop computers that today is a reality. I look forward to hear news about this.


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