This paper, recently published in Nature –vol. 482, Feb 23rd, 2012– by Darrel C. Ince, Leslie Hatton & John Graham-Cumming gives voice to a debate that has interested the scientific community for a while: linking data and models to publications. The authors argue that, with some exceptions, anything less than the release of source programs is intolerable for results that depend on computation.
Scientific communication relies on evidence that cannot be entirely included in publications, but the rise of computational science has added a new layer of inaccessibility. Although it is now accepted that data should be made available on request, the current regulations regarding the availability of software are inconsistent.
We have reached the point that, with some exceptions, anything less than release of actual source code is an indefensible approach for any scientific results that depend on computation, because not releasing such code raises needless, and needlessly confusing, roadblocks to reproducibility. The vagaries of hardware, software and natural language will always ensure that exact reproducibility remains uncertain, but withholding code increases the chances that efforts to reproduce results will fail.
The authors’ thesis is that journal and funding body strictures relating to code implementations of scientific ideas are now largely obsolete. They suggested one modest path to code availability in this article. There are a number of further steps that journals, academies and educational organizations might consider taking: