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 2010-2011 CSE Lecture Series


Title: Bits of Evidence: What We Actually Know About Software Development, and Why We Believe It's True

Dr. Greg Wilson, Software Carpentry

Date:   September 10, 2010
Time:  11:30 am
Room: 1279 Anthony Hall

Host: C. Titus Brown 


By the time the Seven Years War ended in 1763, Britain had lost 1512 sailors in action, but almost 100,000 to scurvy---despite the fact that a Scottish surgeon had shown twenty years earlier that a little lemon juice every day was enough to prevent or cure the dreaded ailment. It was more than a century before medical practitioners began paying attention to controlled trials of this kind.  Today, though, most practitioners accepted that decisions about the care of individual patients should be based on conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence.

The idea that claims about software development practices should be based on evidence is still foreign to software developers, but this is finally starting to change: any academic who claims that a particular tool or practice makes software development faster, cheaper, or more reliable is now expected to back up that claim with some sort of empirical study. Such studies are difficult to do well, but hundreds have now been published covering almost every aspect of software development. This talk will look at some of the best of those studies, which are as elegant as classic experiments in physics, psychology, and other scientific disciplines.


Greg Wilson is the chief scientist on Software Carpentry, an intensive introduction to fundamental computational skills for scientists and engineers.  He has worked over the past 25 years in high-performance scientific computing, data visualization, and computer security, and has been on the editorial board of "Doctor Dobb's Journal" and "Computing in Science and Engineering".  His most recent books are "Data Crunching" (Pragmatic, 2005), "Beautiful Code" (O'Reilly, 2007), and "Practical Programming" (Pragmatic, 2009).  Greg received a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Edinburgh in 1993.