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Open Source Software In Education Pushed By Government

13 Pages 3328 Words

As I’ll argue in this essay, there’s much more at stake here than money. In what follows, I’ll argue that open source software in general--and Linux in particiular--holds the key to the ability of colleges and universities to retain their traditions of scientific and scholarly excellence as they adapt to an increasingly computerized world. By establishing Linux as the international standard for academic computing, institutions of higher education can directly address challenges to the integrity of scientific research, do a better job of preparing students for a world of rapidly changing technology, and combat the growing and disturbing disparities in access to information technology. The following sections detail the case for Linux in higher education--a case that, in my view, amounts to a moral imperative.

Closed-Source Software in Science? Goodbye, Verifiability
Since science’s earliest days, the enterprise has been based on a gift-economy notion very much like that underlying open- source software: scientists receive credit and prestige for their discoveries, but they do not receive ownership of them. On the contrary, scientists are expected to publish their findings in open, public journals, which are accessible to all. These journals print scientific articles only after a submission passes peer review, in which a scientist’s peers scrutinize all of the assumptions and calculations that produced the conclusions. The journal’s editor will publish a scientific article only when the peer reviewers conclude that the underlying methods are sound. To be sure, the system doesn’t always work perfectly, but--like democracy--it is clearly superior to its alternatives.

Increasingly, scientists are beginning to see that their use of closed-source software poses a profound threat to the integrity of science (Kiernan 1999). Computer software is increasingly used to analyze research results or simulate real-world systems. How...

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