I am blogging a small incident because I think the underlying pattern will become more common as interest in open source gains prominence within the wider domain of national energy systems analysis. I also think a commitment to transparency includes a commitment accuracy — and particular when the underlying discussions relate to public policy analysis.
This post involves the legal status of the MAED‑2 software developed in‑house by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This tooling is used to project future demand profiles. A user manual is available:
- Anon (January 2006). Model for analysis of energy demand (MAED-2) — Users manual. Vienna, Austria: International Atomic Energy Agency. Unlicensed.
Over the last weeks I have had intermittent traffic on this topic with four interested parties. One researcher at a COP‑27 side‑event described MAED‑2 as “open source” but when asked for details, admitted that this was an innocent error. Notwithstanding, no correction was issued. Then, following some discussions on the openmod list as to whether a selection process applied, I emailed the IAEA for details of the software license provided. The IAEA responded with the following release form (received 10 January 2023):
IAEA (August 2000). Basis for release of the MAED Computer Package To IAEA Member States And International Organizations. Vienna, Austria: Department of Nuclear Energy, International Atomic Energy Agency.
2000-iaea-basis-for-release-of-the-maed-computer-package-to-iaea-member-states-and-international-organizations.pdf (152.3 KB)
That document clearly offers the software under very restrictive terms and certainly implies that all applicants are subject to screening. Two signatures are required, including the head of the applicant organization. Moreover the IAEA “reserves the right to charge” under certain circumstances. And I am not sure if I would get just an executable or the source code as well.
I later had contact with an IAEA staff member (LS) on the legal circumstances surrounding MAED‑2 at a recent private meeting. LS claimed the tooling is “available [to anybody] for free”. I then pointed to the release form I received, to which LS then claimed that this form was merely to collect statistics on usage and not legally material.
So that is where the matter stands. And hence my decision to blog my experiences in the interests of transparency and accuracy. This posting records my opinions on the matter.
I would welcome contact from the IAEA but only if the facts can be agreed upon first. Moreover, I would be interested in hearing if anything in this posting needs correcting in any way. And if the IAEA really wishes to make their software transparent, usable, and reusable, they should consider uploading the codebase to a public repository under an OSI‑approved license (OSI being the Open Source Initiative.)
In many respects, I don’t think this kind of non‑open tooling presents much of a threat. I say that because if the functionality is useful to this community, the code will be developed more rapidly and more robustly than in‑house development can match, even for multilateral organizations. Indeed, there are already some open‑source examples.
Finally, I often strike this general kind of response from large scientific institutions, incumbent NGOs, government agencies, and international organizations. Indeed, I normally receive just a set of assertions without backup or analysis and without reference to any of the legal details I had raised. Sometimes I receive assurances that apply personally and not generally. All of which is why I headed this post “gaslighting”. R