Now, a “Citation” and a “DOI” are not the same thing, but they depend on each
you can’t cite something if you can’t uniquely identify it.
So, if you do something, and you think it will be useful in the future, it’s
good scientific practice to give it a persistent identifier, like a
DOI2. This is so pervasive in scholarly literature that one hardly
considers it worth mentioning, however when that literature is redefined as to
include software and tools, then it’s an entirely different story.
What to cite
Software has become fundamental to the process of scientific discovery in many
fields and indeed software packages are often cited in literature which has used
them. However, the citation usually refers to the writeup of the package, and
only in rare cases does the actual source code get cited… almost never is
there a persistent identifier for the source code given as a citation. The
Software Sustainability Institute has a very good
green paper3 entitled “How to Cite and Describe Software”, with
several suggestions and tips of “how to cite the software which may have been
used in your paper”.
The first of these tips is :
Describe any software that played a critical part in, or contributed something
unique to, your research.
Now, it may be up to the author, or up to the license of the software that the
author used to decide what software falls into that category. Some software
licenses may explicitly mandate the citation of the software if it was used at
all in the generation of new knowledge. Other software packages, such as
simulation packages make the choice obvious - without them, the paper could not
have been written, so clearly they should be cited.
At the other end of the scale, we could follow this argument ad absurdum to
state that every piece of software used in the process should be cited. This
is clearly unreasonable - are we going to cite our
text editor45 ?
Footnotes and References
Actually, I’m so not hip to the pop scene, that I erroneously attributed the desire of ring-on-finger to Rhianna. My bad. ↩
The DOI - Digital Object Identifier - is one of a few systems for uniquely resolving digital objects. It is based on the ISO 26324:2012 Standard. ↩
(http://www.software.ac.uk/how-cite-and-describe-software?mpw) of the ↩
“Atom.io - the hackable text editor” https://github.com/atom/atom/releases/tag/v1.6.0-beta3 ↩
It turns out that the release of Atom that I was using to write this article was published by a bot. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to have automated software generators being cited more often in the near future, or to cite datasets or discoveries which have been created by artificial intelligence. ↩