Do people use Fortran?

I’m very sure that Fortran is one of the major scientific programming languages. Many functions, modules, and libraries are written in this language. Without being aware of, these routines are ported into many script languages. However, I become curious whether Fortran is still the major force in astronomy or statistics, compared to say 20 years ago (10 seems too small).

I recently placed my Numerical Recipes in Fortran in someone’s hands because I can access the electronic version of NR in C/C++. I have some manuals about Fortran 77 and 90/95, and IMSL in Fortran but I haven’t put my hands on them in recent years. I now feel that these manuals are on the verge of recycling bins or deletion. But the question about the trend in scientific computation languages pulls my sleeve to think over. With a bit of shyness, I want to ask scientists with long experience in both fields for their opinions about Fortran. Do any experienced scientists ask their students or post-docs to acquire knowledge in Fortran? While young people pursuing Python, R, and other scripting languages thanks to GNU GPL (There are a few caveats in this transition, but I’ll discuss that later).

2 Comments
  1. Elbereth:

    I have been an undergraduate in Spain, and I can assure you we are still taught Fortran (in fact it’s considered somewhat innovative, which is a bit surprising when you realise most of the teachers only know Fortran 77). I was lucky enough to get the only teacher that did work with Fortran 90 (The gotos give me the creeps, and the pseudo-pointers of Fortran 95 are even more scary).
    My experience in astronomy is brief, I’m a PhD student, therefore my knowledge of the subject is limited, but as far as I know that people working in high energies (X-rays and probably some people working in Gamma-rays too) used to rely on Fortran until very recently, due to the main analysis tool being XSPEC v11 (and previous versions), all based on Fortran, I believe. The newer XSPEC versions (v12+) are based on TCL (which I personally consider a nightmare of a language), and C/C++.
    So we are not really encouraged to learn Fortran nowadays, unless we want to work on modelling or MHD simulations, but it always comes in handy, if only to understand some of our tutors’ quirks ;-) so we end up learning it anyway. The same could probably apply to C.

    12-07-2009, 12:20 pm
  2. hlee:

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I heard of TCL a few times. I’m glad that I didn’t dig into it because I don’t like nightmares. But knowing baseline languages seems important for me to understand how analysis is done, to dissect the analysis procedure for robustness, and to measure the reliability of quantification. Frequently, from data scientist perspective, I find that analysis packages are lack of algorithmic explanation, particularly when it comes to statistical inference where error propagation and dependency cannot be presented by one single sigma.

    12-09-2009, 4:20 pm
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