SIGCIS 2012 Workshop, Traditional Papers I: Identities of Science

Name: Alexandre Hocquet
Institutional Affiliation: Univeristé de Lorraine
E-mail address:
Paper Type: Traditional
Paper Title:  RTFM! Computational Chemists and Software Distribution.
Paper Abstract:Computational chemistry (which could be defined as the use of computer resources to solve problems in chemistry) is a scientific discipline that emerged at the same time that computers became available in research laboratories, and developed with the graphics terminal, in the 70s and 80s. When computers became personal, ie a device in the research lab accessible to non specialists, an upheaval appeared in the scientific community: the scientists who were designing the molecular modeling software (the developers) were not any more the same people than those who performed the calculations (the users). Thus, in the 80s and 90s, the problem of the distribution of the software arose, and tensions appeared in the community. Should the software be shared freely? Should it be sold? Should the code source be open? Could (and should) academic institutions benefit from a "technology transfer"? Depending on what kind of licensing? The computational chemistry community was also involved with two major industries: the computer manufacturers and the pharmaceutical industry, the latter becoming a potential market for the former through modeling software.

To account for the strategies, tensions, and changes over time in the community, this work explores The Computational Chemistry List (CCL), a mailing list created in 1991 to provide a discussion board to the fledgling community. For twenty years, it has been used as an opinions forum and a platform for scientific exchange. Since its inception, through the archives of its thousands of threaded conversations, the mailing list is a valuable corpus from a STS point of view,  with its "trolls" and "flame wars" particularly helpful in revealing the tensions and controversies within the community.