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How Do Scientists Really Use Computers?

A Web-based survey offers clues

Greg Wilson

Who Responded

First, a few facts about who answered. Thirty-one percent told us they were from the United States, 20 percent from Canada, and 8 percent from the United Kingdom. Germany and Norway came next with 7 percent and 6 percent respectively, while the rest of the world made up the remaining 28 percent. The high representation from Canada and Norway reflects the fact that my colleagues and I are based there, while the low response rate from areas such as Russia and East Asia is undoubtedly due to the fact that we only advertised the survey in English-language channels.

Thirty-three percent of respondents were 18 to 30 years old; 35 percent were 30 to 40, and 17 percent were 40 to 50. The remaining 15 percent were over 50 or, in the case of 15 respondents, didn’t answer. These figures are consistent with reports about degrees: Seventy-one percent had a Ph.D. or equivalent, with 18 percent reporting at least an M.Sc.

Illustration by Stephanie FreeseClick to Enlarge ImageWhen asked to identify their roles, over half of our 1,972 respondents chose more than one category (right)—which is probably an accurate reflection of how many jobs working scientists actually do.

Respondents’ descriptions of their disciplines were much more diverse. Roughly 150 identified themselves as physicists, but no other discipline made up more than 5 percent of the sample. These figures are necessarily imprecise, since we had to make a lot of judgment calls when coding them. For example, should astrophysics be classified as a separate discipline from astronomy and physics? If so, what about plasma physics? And how exactly do we count “theological engineering”? (In the end, we discarded that response entirely.)

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