AGAIN: sharing the data

Sebastian Rahtz
Mon Sep 25 11:02:37 CEST 2006

Dorothy Graves wrote:
> I agree that this is a problem.  Any mathematical algorithms used must be published in my thesis (V), and my database (x) would be available in digital format.  But of course, the algorithms used by software I use may not be accessible because I use ArcGIS, Imagine, and Idrisi.  I have tried more than once to learn how to use GRASS, and found the process extremely frustrating.  I am not using it to complete my research, but I did give it a fair go more than once.  I do not have the programming skills to use it even remotely effectively, and at this point in my research, I cannot sacrifice the time to learn.  You could arguably take my database and put it into the different closed-source packages I have used, but there's always the inherent danger of incongruent GISes.  I find that to be extremely worrying, more so than the question of access to data.
You are implying that closed source software may always involve proprietary
analytical algorithms. In much software, it really does not matter; yes, 
no doubt have secret code for making big fast databases, while MySQL's 
can be
examined. But for the purposes of this argument we don't care.

GIS may be a different matter. But I don't believe that what ArcGIS or 
do for you is entirely opaque - you wouldn't use a function which
just said "give me all your data and I'll show you The Answer". You
use functions there which correspond to some known technique, surely?
It may be that I cannot immediately reproduce your results, because only
Idrisi has implemented the technique, and it would be nicer if we had
an open source implementation too; but its not the end of the world.
It is in the interests of GIS vendors to stay honest and publish their
algorithms, surely?

However, one of the best arguments of OSS is that it allows
us to have a public implementation of a standard or a technique,
to test the commercial vendors against, and keep them clean.
So I share the concern.

Sebastian Rahtz      

Information Manager, Oxford University Computing Services
13 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6NN. Phone +44 1865 283431

OSS Watch: JISC Open Source Advisory Service

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