Texas iSchool awarded $635K grant to improve credit for research software

Ferguson, John  |  Nov 10, 2016

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Assistant Professor James Howison
James Howison
Sloan Foundation

School of Information Assistant Professor James Howison is collaborating on a new project that aims to transform the way we measure the scholarly impact of software.

Funded by a three-year, $635,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Dr. Howison is working with the open-source website Impactstory to create a database of software projects that are mentioned in research papers.

By raising the visibility of software work as a contribution in academic literature, they hope to improve incentives for software work in scholarship, which in turn will support software-intensive, open-science systems to enable future research.

“Software is key for science, but scientists struggle to identify the impact of the software they write,” Dr. Howison said. “I’m very excited to work with Heather Piwowar and Jason Priem from Impactstory to help make software more visible in the literature. We’re going to provide a new resource for those building software to make their case for impact.”

The idea for the project grew out of research that Dr. Howison conducted with iSchool doctoral student Julia Bullard, he said. When they examined how many times research software was mentioned in a random sample of 90 biology articles, they found that 63 percent of those mentions were informal, such as URLs in footnotes, rather than formal citations. Citations are commonly used to measure the impact of research and can influence tenure decisions.

UT Austin will receive a little more than half of the Sloan Foundation’s award, which Dr. Howison said will primarily support student work.

"We're going to be involving students at all levels in research, doctoral, masters, and undergraduates,” Dr. Howison said. “I’ve been thinking for some time about how to provide introductory research experiences for undergrads and masters students in my research, since I don't run a lab or field research program. In this project we're going to have undergrads reading scientific papers and identifying software; their work will then be available as the basis for training computers to identify software in the papers. So the undergrads, masters, and doctoral students will have a chance to see real impact from their research work."

Dr. Howison and Impactstory plan to use the database to build and study three prototype tools:

  • CiteSuggest will analyze submitted text or code and make recommendations for normalized citations using the software author’s preferred citation;
  • CiteMeAs will help software producers make clear requests for their preferred citations;
  • Software Impactstory will help software authors demonstrate the scholarly impact of their software in the literature.

Impactstory is a nonprofit website that helps researchers explore and share the the online impact of their research.

Howison Wins NSF CAREER Award

Jul 29, 2015

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National Science Foundation
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James Howison
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James Howison
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Assistant Professor James Howison

Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation, Assistant Professor James Howison can help sustain the software underlying scientific research. Howison earned the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program award bringing $535,349 to the UT iSchool to support his project, “CAREER: Sustaining Scientific Infrastructure: Researching Transition from Grants to Peer Production.” The NSF award recognizes pre-tenured faculty who exemplify the role of teachers and scholars and integrate programs of research, education and curriculum development. Over forty percent of the grant funding will provide tuition, health insurance, stipends and travel funds for doctoral students. Around one-third of the grant goes to the university to fund the services that make a research university possible.

“It's exciting to know that this research project is seen by peers and the National Science Foundation to be of value,” Howison said. “Best known from open source software development, peer production is a promising way to sustain software, yet peer production projects are run differently than grant funded projects through the NSF and other agencies. We are researching how projects successfully change to thrive after their original grants end. Our research builds on what is already known about peer production outside science by seeing how and when it succeeds in science.”

UT School of Information Dean Andrew Dillon said this NSF grant will greatly support Howison’s research. “James is developing a very impressive research program that offers us real insights into the emerging world of information work, particularly the ecosystem of software that underlies collaboration and large projects in the sciences. This is truly cutting edge, interdisciplinary work at the heart of information science. An NSF Career Award is a major achievement and is clear evidence that others consider James’ work to hold tremendous promise.” Howison’s award is the second NSF CAREER award for the iSchool in recent years, joining Associate Professor Matt Lease’s project “ CAREER: Achieving Quality Crowdsourcing Across Tasks, Data Scales and Operational Settings.”

Howison will spend five years working on the project in two phases - a first set of six case studies and then a panel study of over forty projects. Additionally, he will write curriculum for a class at the iSchool on managing open projects and short courses for students and faculty about running software projects in science.  “Comparing cases lets us build theory about what works in what circumstances,” he said. “iSchool students will be involved in both doing the research and in preparing and delivering our educational materials.”

Howison has served as an assistant professor at the iSchool since 2011. Prior to working at UT, he served as a postdoctoral associate at the Institute for Software Research at the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science. He received his doctorate in 2009 from the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. 








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