Re: A bit of bomb throwing....

From: Michael McDougall <>
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2006 10:20:23 -0500

Zack Rosen wrote:
> On Jan 17, 2006, at 1:44 PM, Prokopp, Christian wrote:
>> It sounds like you are fighting windmills. The modern economy works the
>> way it does (early adopter problems etc.) and the university have
>> totally different interest than open source communities, companies or
>> you and me. No one will change that (soon) for good reasons - it is not
>> perfect but the best we know of.
> I have yet to hear an explanation for why academic research should not
> be applied towards real world problems in partnership with open-source
> communities other than 'this is just not the way things are done in
> academia'. Can someone please lay out the reasoning for me?

I thought I made it pretty clear.

- Different goals: academics want publishable advances in science, while
open source communities want to create usable tools. Quite often, you
don't need scientific advances to create usable tools, you just need
good engineering and design, which is not at all the same thing. So an
academic may work on the project just to see their (scientifically
legitimate) pet algorithm discarded in favor of something better for the
product. Or conversely, the open-source developers may feel like they
have to include complex technology that users don't care about just to
keep the scientists happy. Open-source communities generate code,
academics generate papers.

- Coordinating with an outside group brings in extra overhead and extra
risk. I mentioned a couple scenarios above. You need to monitor the
mailing lists, and track all the changes that might impact your
research. If something needs to be implemented to fit with your research
project you have to convince other people to merge that into the
project. Like I mentioned above, it's possible that the community will
decide to move the project in a direction that's bad for your
research--what do you do then? What if the head of the open-source
community starts trashing your funding agency in the national media?

I've seen research projects destroyed by these kinds of issues. It's
much easier for a researcher to create a small environment where they
own the code, they know all the people involved, and everyone is working
towards the same end (publishing papers).

I'm not saying academics should always hide from the world. If their
research project has common goals with some open-source community, then
maybe the extra overhead and risk is outweighed by the benefits of
real-world experience and users. Certainly, I would rather see academics
extend existing projects than duplicate existing tools--and this seems
to happening more often (there's a ton of academic projects making
Eclipse plugins, for example). However, I understand that it's not
always feasible for an academic to align their research interests with
the interests of some open-source community.


Received on Wed Jan 18 2006 - 15:20:00 EST

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