I’m currently working on a report for the Preserving.exe: Toward a National Strategy for Preserving Software summit held at the Library of Congress in May. My head is filled with the reasons and ways (and lack of ways) to save software discussed at the meeting, and by software, I don’t mean necessarily astrophysics codes, oh no! All kinds of software: mainframe HR software and VisiCalc and Doom and old browsers and dBASE and … well, everything.
This has dovetailed nicely, or perhaps alarmingly, with recent readings, including a blog post by Kristin Briney titled How Long Should You Keep Data? and the Retraction Watch post which inspired it, JCI paper retracted for duplicated panels after authors can’t provide original data, about a 2007 paper which recently had one figure retracted because the authors could not provide the data from which it was generated.
Jon Ippolito of the University of Maine was at the summit and wrote about it in his blog post The Ex-files: how long will our software last?
How long indeed? And if you wanted to retrieve data from 2007, would you be able to even if you had the data files? Would you still have the tools available to get into them? In astronomy, probably so; with FITS, astronomy is better off than many sciences. Elsewhere, maybe not.
How long will astronomy software last? That might be unknowable; perhaps a better question, then, is how long should it last?