[Fwd: Re: Articolo su Archeologia e Open Source]

Roberto Bagnara bagnara@cs.unipr.it
Thu Jun 1 19:07:32 CEST 2006

Stefano Costa wrote:
> Il giorno gio, 01/06/2006 alle 15.22 +0200, M. Fioretti ha scritto:
>> On Thu, Jun 01, 2006 15:00:53 PM +0200, Roberto Bagnara
>> (bagnara@cs.unipr.it) wrote:
>>> I think open data formats are really a major issue.  (Please note: I
>>> have no background in archaeology, so what I say may be nonsense.)
>>> Ideally, all the data originating from excavations and other
>>> data-collection activities should be recorded and made available to
>>> everyone.
>> Note that things can be available without being open (in the "open
>> source software" sense, at least). For example, a MS Office
>> spreadsheet or text containing macros could be released in the public
>> domain (available), but it could not be used without paying or
>> illegally installing, a copy of Windows + office.
>> So, which kind of "openness" are you referring to? What do you think
>> is more important, or more urgent, for your job:
>> 1) Data which one must pay to have or redistribute, but can be natively
>>    used with Open Source Software (open format, closed copyright), or
>> 2) Data which everybody can copy and share without restrictions, but
>>    are usable only with one software program, maybe because patents or
>>    licenses make writing clones illegal? This (closed format, open or
>>    no copyright) is the opposite of case 1)
>> 3) both of the above?

I realize I am not been completely clear.  Let me try again.  What I
believe is important for any discipline is continuously assessing the
validity of the inferences being made.  The data can be interpreted
in many ways: let others use their methods on your data;  see if they
confirm or confute your conclusions.
In order to achieve this, what is needed is the complete reproducibility
of the results: let others have _all_ your data and the _concrete_
possibility to use them (open formats and open source plays an important
role here).  And if you really only care about the progress of the
discipline, let the data be available as widely as possible (not only
to the colleagues you trust): make it practical from anyone, anywhere
to try different methodologies on your data, and see what is the outcome.

I should perhaps explain how I got the impression that this may
indeed be an issue.  I participated the workshop on "Archaeology
and Computer" in Vienna, November 2005.  I have seen several
presentations where the computer was used to produce nice drawings,
but no effort was made to convince the audience that that drawings
had any real connection with reality.  The impression was that any
other more or less nice drawing would have been equally good.
The impression was that anyone with good programming skills could
produce dozens of such drawings: if the data is not available,
no one can really ascertain whether they are valuable or not.
As a computer scientist, I was astonished no one asked the questions
that seemed so natural to me.  (A song of which I don't remember
neither the title nor the author says something like "It may be
true, it may be false, you'll always get the same reward.")
Not to talk about presentations whose only message seemed to
be "we used a GIS."  Not all presentations were like this,
but I got the impression that lots of valuable data may be in
the wrong hands.  Giving the data away would then be the solution.
I realize that this has severe political implications (probably
more severe than the technical ones).


Prof. Roberto Bagnara
Computer Science Group
Department of Mathematics, University of Parma, Italy

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