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Buggy Software: Achilles Heel of Big-Data-Powered Science?


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Software defects are a growing concern in the scientific computing community. A recent workshop focusing on maintainable software practices discussed how software code errors caused retractions in major research papers. Kingston University professor Leslie Hatton addressed the issue in a research paper.

"The defects themselves arise from many causes, including: a requirement might not be understood correctly; the physics could be wrong; there could be a simple typographical error in the code, such as a + instead of a - in a formula; the programmer may rely on a subtle feature of a programming language which is not defined properly, such as uninitialized variables; there may be numerical instabilities such as over-flow, under-flow or rounding errors; or basic logic errors in the code," the paper says. Although most of the defects are caused by human error, they are facilitated by the complexity of programing languages and algorithms, and the sheer size of the computations, Hatton adds.

Columbia University professor Victoria Stodden recently launched RunMyCode, a Web site that helps scientists discover errors by sharing code and data, and accelerating the replication or experiments.

From The Atlantic
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Abstracts Copyright © 2012 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


 

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