Thursday, October 9, 2014

Michael Nielsen and Open Science


This is a 2006 Ted Presentation.  Michael Nielsen talks first about the Polymath problem which was initiated by a mathematician at Cambridge University – Tim Gowers.  Gowers posed a mathematical problem on his blog and invited others to contribute.  After a slow start the project took off and in a very short time the mathematical problem was collectively solved.

Nielsen then talks about other similar type projects which failed – the Qwiki project failed.  This was a proposal to host a Wiki site for scientists for them to share their knowledge.  But they didn’t.  Nielsen suggests that this is because of professional jealousy of a kind and where individuals seeking good jobs woukld not share their knowledge lest they fail to secure the good jobs they are seeking.  He goes on to describe how scientists from the past including such giants as Galileo, Newton and Da Vinci also failed to share their knowledge with other great scientists of the time.

Nielsen then goes on to suggest that scientists can be motivated to share their knowledge.  One way fo doing so is for others to always give credit to those with original ideas and discoveries.

My Take

Why don’t scientists like to collaborate?  Perhaps it is not as Nielsen suggests.  Perhaps it is because most scientists are men and men are traditionally not the kind of people who share ideas and knowledge.  It is women who are driving Facebook and now even Linked-In.  It is women who communicate sometimes with feverish abandon.  My experiences on MOOCs has been that the majority of players are women, not men.

Perhaps also when a scientist has a new idea or discovery he is not immediately convinced himself that his idea or discovery has real merit and rather than expose himself to ridicule, he hides his idea waiting to see if others can generate anything similar?

If I am anywhere right on these thoughts, then these issues also need to eb addressed to ensure the scientific collaboration works in the future.

One final thought.  

The world is being shaken by the Ebola pandemic.  What is being done, collaboratively, to find a vaccine and a cure?  Or are scientists around the world working on this problem in traditional isolation?

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