[plt-scheme] Re: A Couple of Questions on DrScheme/Mzscheme

From: Matthias Felleisen (matthias at ccs.neu.edu)
Date: Sat Sep 28 10:56:52 EDT 2002

Why do professors in mathematical disciplines not use Scheme? 

I could tell you tales of many years of experience .. They are 
mind numbing. But in the end it all boils down to two things: 

 people, including academics, are very mainstream-oriented. 
 They fear change. They don't have the time to change. They 
 stick with what they know and kind of works in the direction 
 that they are on. 

Think of a chemistry prof. If he isn't good, he's lazy and doesn't 
want to think about computing. If he is good, he is extremely busy
raising funds, recruiting PhD students, training them, supervising 
his professional staff, running to program committees, flying to 
Washington for peer review panels, serving on some university 
committee, and (oh by the way) teaching some random students 
that show up every so often in a classroom. 

So now a few years ago, he and his clan built some software to 
simulate some reaction from the tools that they could master then. 
And remember to them "programming" is translating "real" knowledge
(from chemistry) into keystrokes on the keyboard. (Okay, that's a 
bit extreme but hey, it was close to reality not too long ago.) 
This software works. Now they need an extension here, and a modification
there, so what should you do? Start from scratch. Excuse I don't have
the money and I don't have the people and I don't have the time to
wait for that. 

Do you see what I mean? It is easier to stick with what you have
when you're established. Switching research directions is 
difficult, time consuming, and you face loss of reputation. And 
that's almost what it takes to switch tools when you have an 
establishd basis. Been there, done that, ... 

Let me not close without saying that to their credit mathematical
scientific disciplines, as well as chemistry, are discovering 
more declarative ways to build software for their disciplines. 
Even Mathlab is better than Fortran, and then think of the 
spreading use of Excel, MathCad, Mathematica, and such tools in 
these disciplines. Young assistant professors with an open mind
switch to such tools and that's how these disciplines will change. 

Until we have the army of professional programmers to build the 
special-purpose graphics tools for the boxes that they use, we
won't compete .. and even then we'll compete with these commercial

-- Matthias

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