#aas229, day 4

I arrived at the American Astronomical Meeting this morning, just in time (well a few minutes late, actually) for the Special Session on Software organized by Alice Allen (ASCL). There were talks about a range of issues in writing, publishing, and maintaining software in astrophysics. I spoke about software publications (slides here) and software citations. Not only were the ideas in the session diverse, the presenters had a wide range of backgrounds (three of them aren't even astronomers)!

There were many interesting contributions to the session. I was most impressed with the data that people are starting to collect about how software is built, supported, discovered, and used. Along those lines, Iva Momcheva (STScI) showed some great data she took about how software projects are funded and built. This follows great work she did with Erik Tollerud (STScI) on how software is used by astronomers (paper here). In their new work, they find that most software is funded by grants that are not primarily (or in many cases not even secondarily) related to the software, and that most software is written by early-career scientists. These data have great implications for the next decade of astrophysics funding and planning. In the discussion afterwards, there were comments about how hard it is to fund the maintenance of software (something I feel keenly).

Similarly, Mike Hucka (Caltech) showed great results he has on how scientists discover software for use in their research projects (paper here). He finds (surprise!) that documentation is key, but there are many other contributing factors to make a piece of research software more likely to be used or re-used by others. His results have strong implications for developers finishing software projects. One surprising thing is that scientists are less platform-specific or language-specific in their needs than you might think.

I spent part of the afternoon hiding in various locations around the meeting, hacking on an unsupervised data-driven model of stellar spectra with Megan Bedell (Chicago).

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