Better Scientific Software Fellowship

I’m happy to announce that I’ve been awarded an inaugural fellowship from the Better Scientific Software (BSSw) Project, along with my great colleagues, Jeff Carver, Ivo Jimenez, and Andrew Lumsdaine.

As a scientific software developer for 30 years and as a founder of Working towards Sustainable Software for Science: Practice and Experiences (WSSSPE), my goal under this fellowship is to make scientific software more sustainable by providing credit to its developers via software citation, similar to how scientists gain credit for their research via paper citations. I co-led the FORCE11 Software Citation working group, where we produced a set of software citation principles, and I’ve been co-leading the FORCE11 Software Citation Implementation working group, where we are working with publishers and others to implement these principles. One challenge is finding points of leverage on which to focus implementation activities. The BSSw fellowship will give me the opportunity to work with specific conferences and communities as such leverage points. Specifically, I plan to work with astronomers, physicists, and geoscientists through conferences such as AAS, ACAT, CHEP, and AGU, with the repositories and services that are used in these fields such as ArXiv, ADS, ASCLEarthArXiv, and ESSoar, and with other organizations in these domains that are also concerned with recognizing the role of software and its developers and maintainers in these fields, such as AAS, STScI, AGUESIP, and Zenodo.

I also want to share a slightly edited and more accurate version of the application I submitted for the fellowship, in case it helps others understand what I am trying to do, or those who might apply for this fellowship in future years:

Describe your work relevant to scientific software. (1000 – 1500 characters)

I’ve been involved in writing scientific software since 1987, initially in computational electromagnetics, later in other computational and data science fields, including astronomy, and more recently, in computer science (workflow systems). I’ve also been involved in HPC, such as optimization and resilience. My work has generally been aimed at improving 1) how research is done on parallel and distributed computing, and over the last 7 or so years, 2) how research software is developed, maintained, and sustained. I also founded Working towards Sustainable Software for Science: Practice and Experiences (WSSSPE) and have organized 8 WSSSPE workshops over the past 5 years. I have also contributed to other topics around scientific software, such as software citation, career paths (RSEs), software metrics, licensing, catalogs and indexes, reproducibility, and artifact evaluation, as can be seen in my blog: For example, I co-founded the Journal of Open Source Software, which is a means to implement and test the idea that publishing software enables that software to be cited, which will leads to increased incentives to create and maintain good software. In about 19 months, we’ve published about 175 software papers, and two of them have been cited more than 60 times.

Describe your background and experience relevant to being a BSSw Fellow. (1000 – 1500 characters)

As an NSF program officer (2012-2016) funding software as infrastructure projects (software developed for others to use), I realized that funding was not sufficient to provide all the software researchers needed, and systematic and cultural changes were needed that would encourage developers to share and maintain their software, such as providing credit via citation or other means that match their institution’s and community’s metrics and incentives. I also attended a number of NSF software institute (S2I2) conceptualization meetings, where this topic of credit came up repeatedly.  And since NSF, I’ve been involved with the HEP S2I2 conceptualization, and I’m a co-PI on one for GIS software, and one for general research software (similar to the UK SSI), and these topics keep coming up.

Simultaneously, I co-led the FORCE11 Software Citation working group, where we produced a set of software citation principles (published as 10.7717/peerj-cs.86), and I’ve been co-leading the FORCE11 Software Citation Implementation working group, where we are working with publishers and others to implement these principles. The remaining challenge is to find points of leverage on which to focus. The BSSw fellowship would give me the opportunity to work with specific conferences as such leverage points.

What would you do as a BSSw Fellow? (1000 – 1500 characters)

I plan to work with specific domain conferences to publicize and implement software citation principles, with the end goal of more broad implementation. Such work has been ongoing in some fields, such as astronomy, where the main society (AAS) and domain indexing service (ADS) have already started down this path. To help move this further, I will participate in AAS-231 in Jan., in a general session on software publishing and in a co-located meeting of a Sloan Foundation funded AAS/ADS/Zenodo project to implement this. I have also worked with physicists at ACAT 2017 ( along similar lines.  In this fellowship, I will continue to work with Astronomers via AAS, physicists via CHEP and ACAT in 2018, and will work with AGU in their 2018 Fall meeting. For CHEP and ACAT, I will study how the initial ACAT 2017 idea was received, and promote the idea of physics software developers creating software references for users of their packages to cite. For AGU, I will create a session on software publishing and citation (working with Erin Robinson, ESIP Executive Director) at the AGU Fall Meeting, and work with AGU to encourage adoption of software citation standards in abstracts for AGU meetings. I will leverage the existing “Enabling FAIR data” activity, an Arnold Foundation-funded collaboration between AGU, data repositories, data communities like ESIP and RDA and the publisher community, to advance credit for science software and the adoption of software citation by working with their Culture Change Through Credit Group. Finally, a third emerging activity in Earth science and more established in physics are preprint servers (e.g., EarthArXiv, ESSoar.) These provide another lever to encourage software citation in publications.

The fellowship funds will used for labor (work with these organizations) and travel (to 3 events, one each in astronomy, physics, and Earth sciences).

What impact do you foresee from your efforts? (1000 – 1500 characters)

My direct goal is to make software citation common in the research community, which has the indirect goals of increasing the credit given to software developers and maintainers, and of increasing the amount of good quality research software made available and supported. I think the best way to do this is to find points at which software citation can be inserted, and to build on seeds and activities in disciplinary communities where this topic has been raised, e.g., in astronomy through AAS and ADS publication activities, in physics initially through ACAT conference and through the recent HEP community white paper, and in Earth science through AGU-led efforts currently focusing on FAIR data but also beginning to consider software.

From a marketing perspective, we now have a set of individual innovators and some early adopters, such as in astronomy. I will bring in more early adopters (physics) and start to build momentum towards crossing the chasm to the majority (Earth science) by reinforcing the early progress that has been made and by coordinated new activities in each community. Such directed progress in a number of communities will spill over into other communities across channels created by multidisciplinary research projects and topics.

To document this fellowship and its activity, I will blog about these efforts and their results 3-6 times over the year, posted on my blog ( and the BSSw site. 

Published by:

Daniel S. Katz

Chief Scientist at NCSA, Research Associate Professor in CS, ECE, and the iSchool at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; works on systems and tools (aka cyberinfrastructure) and policy related to computational and data-enabled research, primarily in science and engineering

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