GitHub rolls out the red carpet for scientists

Scientists have started to use GitHub for their own purposes beyond just development -- a trend GitHub is fostering with improvements like DOIs for software to make it citable

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.

This story, "GitHub rolls out the red carpet for scientists," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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