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MACROSCOPE

How Do Scientists Really Use Computers?

A Web-based survey offers clues

Greg Wilson

Computers are now essential tools in every branch of science, but we know remarkably little about how—or how well—scientists use them. Do most scientists use off-the-shelf software or write their own? Do they really need state-of-the-art supercomputers to solve their problems, or can they do most of what they need to on desktop machines? And how much time do grad students really spend patching their supervisors’ crusty old Fortran programs?

To answer these questions, Jo Erskine Hannay, Hans Petter Langtangen, Carolyn MacLeod, Dietmar Pfahl, Janice Singer and I ran a Web-based survey during the last two months of 2008. We were surprised and gratified that almost 2,000 people took the time to tell us what they were doing. We were equally surprised by what they told us.




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