Software Carpentry

Helping scientists make better software since 1997

Creating New Niches

“Publish or perish” is the central credo of academic life: despite all the hoopla about the blogosphere and online what-not, the reality for most of us is that if our work doesn’t get into a respected journal or conference, it doesn’t count.

But what do you do if there isn’t a home for your kind of work? People working in scientific computing have been struggling with this for at least a quarter century: while there are many places to submit the results of programs, there are very few places where you can publish a description of the program itself, even if building it took years and required one intellectual breakthrough after another. In contrast, if you design a new telescope, there are at least half a dozen places you could turn.

(This isn’t just a problem in scientific computing, by the way: Software: Practice & Experience and The Journal of Systems & Software are the only academic venues I know for descriptions of real systems, which may be one of the reasons why so much of the software written in academia is crap—there’s just no payoff for doing it right.)

I don’t know if this situation is going to change, but one hopeful sign is a new journal called Geoscientific Model Development (which I found via Jon Pipitone). It’s still early days, but I hope that giving people some kind of credit for talking about how they do things will encourage them to do those things better, and allow newcomers (like us) to get up to speed more quickly.

Written by Greg Wilson

2009/10/21 at 13:15

Posted in Community, Noticed

3 Responses

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  1. Is that true? For astrophysical work, JCP (Journal of Computational Physics) if there are genuniely new algorithms, or ApJSS (The Astrophysical Journal, Supplement Series) or MNRAS (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society) are all places I’ve seen `code papers’.

    Many disciplines have a tradition of `methods papers’ – papers where a new method (and perhaps early results) are published, and that has often carried over quite nicely into `code papers’.

    The problem here is that these journals are necessarily tied to particular existing disciplines; there isn’t a lot of interdisciplinary Scientific Computing journals (although SIAM SC is good.) A new and somewhat promising journal is `Computational Science and Discovery’:

    Jonathan Dursi

    2009/10/21 at 14:24

  2. A good one for medical imaging is

    Matt McCormick

    2009/10/21 at 21:29

  3. There are two (both very new) options for this kind of work in ecology:

    Software Notes in Ecography (


    Applications in ‘Methods in Ecology and Evolution’ (

    The upside of these outlets is that they provide a line item for a CV and are citable and indexed (important as citation metrics become increasingly important for the evaluation of academics). The downside is that they don’t actually appear to provide peer review of the software. I’d like to see this review included as an important component of this type of publication, much like we know have available for the publication of data (e.g., Ecological Archives).

    The other approach that I see taken by biologists is to publish and exemplar paper that debuts the software and then require it’s citation when the software is used. These papers are often published in the major journals in the field and in some cases become well known and well cited papers primarily as a result of the software that is demonstrated and described.


    2009/10/22 at 05:53

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