Although known as a homestead for software development projects like Node.js and Ruby on Rails, GitHub is also becoming a place for developers to collaborate on scientific software, including projects that analyze DNA and find planets. GitHub is now tweaking its popular code-sharing site to better accommodate scientists.
To improve Github for scientists, GitHub has been working with Mozilla Science Lab and data archivers Figshare and Zenodo to enable users to get a DOI (Digital Object Identifier) for GitHub repository archives. These enable references to GitHub archives, making code citable, and they can be used to reference scientific as well as non-scientific software.
"The idea of having a DOI for a piece of software is relatively new," said Arfon Smith, who leads scientific initiatives at GitHub. These identifiers enable an accounting of how many times a work is referenced, which can help authors find employment, Smith explained. "These things really matter to academics." GitHub is offering a guide on creating a DOI for a repository.
It is not exactly clear how many science-related software projects are on GitHub, Smith said. But there is a lot of it -- a mix of software for scientific projects and other activities, such as scientific papers, he said, acknowledging that science is a growth area on GitHub. "Lots of the sciences are becoming more computer-oriented and writing more code," said Smith. Software is needed to analyze the growing volumes of data in science.
Some science projects on GitHub include emcee, for astrophysics, av3-fc, for open source rocket avionics, and rOpenSci, building open source tools for science. The rOpenSci group recently held a hackathon at GitHub headquarters in San Francisco. To enable scientific researchers to work privately on GitHub, the company has set up a program in which academic researchers can receive a micro plan featuring five private repositories. Research groups can receive 20 repositories.
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