AGAIN: sharing the data

Dorothy Graves
Mon Sep 25 11:50:36 CEST 2006

"You are implying that closed source software may always involve proprietary
    analytical algorithms. In much software, it really does not matter; yes,
    Oracle 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."

Right, I'm not very sophisticated when it comes to computer programmes; I think I made that pretty clear.   I'm a typical archaeologist attempting to use quantitative methods to understand the past.  At the QMDAA summer school, some talk was made about giving data to different GISes to see whether they perform analyses in the same way and get the same results.  Apparently the results can vary, and that may be a problem.  However, the main point I was trying to make is that while everyone can agree that OSS is best for archaeology for a number of reasons, we still struggle to implement it.
    "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?"

That's what I said - re: publishing the mathematical algorithms (meant in the broadest sense) in my thesis.

I think you're missing the point I was trying to make. If you don't have a background in computer science, how can you implement a strategy designed to leave data as open as possible for others?  Do you hire a specialist who may be able to sort out your database problems and tailor-create programmes for your individual site/problem?  This is expensive, and doesn't even begin to address the long-term problems of getting archaeologists to learn and use OSS as a matter of course. It would be far better for archaeology as a discipline to have more archaeologists skilled in quantitative methods and computer science, capable of using a variety of different programmes as the data/problem warrants, and capable of using OSS.  Training, training, training, is what I honestly believe we need.  Some universities and groups are valiantly trying to do this, and I applaud their efforts.  Certainly waiting on archaeologists to pick it up on their own in their spare time is not working.

   "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."

I'd say the best argument of OSS is that it's free, and can be tailored to specifically address the problems in archaeological research.  It is not easy to pick up though, and this is what causes some to avoid it in the end, like me.    

Dorothy Graves
Postgraduate Researcher
Department of Archaeology
School of Arts, Culture and Environment
Old High School, Infirmary Street
Edinburgh EH1 1LT, Scotland, UK
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