Though science has invented collaborative open-source development centuries ago, it is currently not the best example of such practices, being surpassed on many fronts by the OSS (Open Source Software) community. The blame for this situation can be partly attributed to commercial scientific publishers, the current method of evaluation of scientific productivity etc. But the goal of this article is not to discuss this.
The OSS community have matured a series of tools and practices to maximize the rate of collaborative production of good quality software. By good quality we mean not only bug-free working software, but software which meets criteria such as: efficiency, desirability, readability (you can't form a developer community around unreadable code), modularity,etc.
Science currently fails to even meet the most basic criterion it sets for itself: reproducibility. Most papers do not include sufficient information for its results to be replicated independently. You can compare a scientific paper, to the binary compiled version of a software, it shows its purpose but does not help those which would like to re-create it independently. However in OSS, Binary files always carry information about where its complete source code can be found and downloaded freely. This closes the circle of reproducibility.
When it comes to collaborating with potentially hundreds of peers in developing code, The OSS community have perfected tools such as distributed version control systems(DVCS), bug trackers, wikis and what not, which have been proven indispensable to the production and maintenance of serious OSS projects. Last but not least, OSS projects are never done, which is also a fundamental rule for science, but does not applay to scentific papers. Unfinished papers in science are almost worthless(with the notable exceptions of workng papers and pre-prints).
So, heading back to the focus of this article, what would be the desirable fatures of a productive Computer Supported Collaborative Science (CSCS) tool?
- Web based interface
- DVCS for code and manuscripts
- Wikis for outlining of ideas and hypotheses
- Bug tracking for reporting of errors in the analysis
- Database browsing capabilities for uploading experimental data and interactively exploring it
- Simple visualizations tools to explore data. Could be based on Google graph/visualization APIs.
- For my research area at least: Integrated Sage system to foster interactive/collaborative development of computational analytical methods.
- Your wish here....
If you read this and think this has already been accomplished by some OSS project, PLEASE let me know.