Software preservation issues in a nutshell


Ooops! In wrapping up the project, I’ve found a half-written blog post dating from the start of the project. So, in the spirit of preservation, here goes… just accept my apologies for the slightly abrupt ending.

We’d been been looking for good examples where software preservation could be beneficial. One that cropped up is in climatic research. Paragraph 7 in Lord Oxburgh’s report on UEA’s CRU research says:

CRU accepts with hindsight that they should have devoted more attention in the past to archiving data and algorithms and recording exactly what they did. At the time the work was done, they had no idea that these data would assume the importance they have today and that the Unit would have to answer detailed inquiries on earlier work. CRU and, we are told, the tree ring community generally, are now adopting a much more rigorous approach to the archiving of chronologies and computer code. The difficulty in releasing program code is that to be understood by anyone else it needs time-consuming work on documentation, and this has not been a top priority.

I think that his excerpt highlights several key issues nicely:

  • the importance of both data and algorithms
  • the uncertainty in knowing what the benefits of archival and preservation might be
  • the critical nature of these benefits (easy to say in hindsight)
  • the costs involved (financial, but perhaps more importantly researcher time)
  • the natural order of priorities (a researcher’s day job is, well, research!)

Now that the requirement in this discipline is understood, action is being taken. See for instance this JISC-funded project: ACRID: Advanced Climate Research Infrastructure for Data

The thrust of our project was to raise awareness of the issues in advance, so that decisions can be made on the basis of the potential need, benefits, costs, etc. Please see our benefits framework for aquick overview or longer version with lots of examples!