Monday, July 21, 2008

Openness in Science

In a recent blog post on The Future of Science Michael Nielsen (co-organizer of our upcoming conference on Science in the 21st Century) puts forward an interesting hypothesis. The reason, he speculates, that scientists are so slow with adapting Web 2.0 tools is a "reluctance to share knowledge that could be useful to others". Since Michael's very recommendable essay is likely too long for some of you guys with an attention span around the lifetime of a charged Kaon, here is my summary: What is missing in the scientific community, he says, is a culture of openness.

I agree with him on this - without supporting the cultural change towards larger openness science will fall behind other areas of our lives that have been moving on. It is quite ironic that science, which lives from creating and discussing ideas, suffers from an inhibition of spreading and sharing these ideas.

I can see the following reasons for this:

  • P1: Especially in physics, there is the prevailing myth of the lonely genius who sits under a tree and waits for the apple to drop on his head. In most instances however, this picture is very incomplete. Even the genius needs a community to work out his ideas, to discuss, and to ask - not to mention that ideas are not born in vacuum but based on the knowledge drawn from that same community.


  • P2: Offering spontaneous opinions eg. on blogs or in a forum brings a risk of being wrong. Making mistakes is human, but the atmosphere in scientific discussions is too often unforgiving and malicious instead of supportive and constructive. In many instances, there is also a confusion of intelligence with knowledge. Not knowing something doesn't equal stupidity, but as you could read off for example from the comments on this blog, many people seem to think so. It is rather unsurprising that under such conditions especially scientists who strive to surround themselves with an aura of omniscience are reluctant to potentially embarrass themselves.


  • P3: As long as scientists have to justify their existence by producing papers, and live in the constant fear of being scooped, their ideas are not meant to be shared. It is of advantage for them to hear about other's insights, but not to offer own as long as these are not published and every citation goes on record. Scientists simply don't get paid for having ideas, but for working them out with their name-stamp on it. This is sensible in some regards, but has obvious disadvantages when it comes to sharing these ideas, especially in casual though public environments.

Ways to deal with it

  • S1: The importance of the community and its support is very underappreciated. We have way too much emphasis on competition instead of collaboration, and the collaborative advantage is badly managed. I think this problem will solve itself since it seems to be a general sociological trend that more people realize the advantage of well-organized collaboration, and that knowledge sharing with the appropriate management can catalyze progress.

    This does not mean the times of the lonely genius are over. Collaboration is a way to efficiently use ideas and to discover the potential in already existing knowledge but it still needs human creativity to actually produce novelty. I am emphasizing this because I am very skeptic about the enthusiasm caused by wiki-like collaborative efforts (see e.g. Wikinomics). It is one thing to use existent resources - here, human knowledge - most efficiently, but something completely different to add new. In business one shouldn't neglect the importance of the latter, and in science one shouldn't neglect the importance of the former.


  • S2: The problem of potential embarrassment is rather simple to solve in that one realizes an online discussion, though written and public, isn't a scientific publication, and to dwell upon somebodies inaccuracies isn't constructive. Like the first point, this also is a barrier that I believe will vanish by itself since our communication culture shifts towards less formality, also in the sciences. I only have to look at my inbox. The state of mind needed to quote others' inaccuracies and to make fun of them is going to bore people into afterlife in a couple of years.

    If you've been around in the blogosphere for a while, either blogging or commenting, you will probably also have noticed that this hesitation is a threshold effect. If you've made a stupid remark once you will realize it doesn't kill you, and the memory of online discussions is very short.


  • S3: There's ways to deal with that. For example, I have been wondering for a while why not make it possible for papers to be based on an idea of somebody who eventually wasn't involved in working out the details (please spare me any comments about seers or craftsmen). So that person who eg offered an idea online would get credits for initiating the process but not for presenting the results. There are already attempts into this direction of allowing more detailed information about researchers' contributions. Philip Campbell from Nature recently wrote in a contribution to Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics in an article titled Escape from the Impact Factor:

    "I am intrigued by the possibility of greater granularity within the literature. This is already happening in relation to author's contributions. In Nature and Nature research journals (following the lead taken by medical journals, to their great credit), we encourage authors to include brief summaries of which author contributed what to the work. More and more author collaborations are taking up this option. This will be spurred on and will no doubt become more formal if funding agencies begin to explicitly track such information."

    Similarly I would prefer funding by interest in somebodies ideas instead of him or her getting funding, and subsequently creating interest through his ability to offer positions (see this previous post to clarify my skepticism about directing research interests through financial incentives). What I mean is consider putting out ideas for projects, and distributing funding according to how much interest a topic received by qualified candidates.

    Michael further mentioned the necessity to support people who open up science, which is probably the way most straight-forward. It requires however that even scientists realize times have changed and continuing to organize research like we've done a century ago is a disadvantage and an obstacle to progress.

Regarding the third point, especially with regard to blogs one problem attached to it is a missing time-stamp for posts. With that I do not mean the date on the bottom - this date can be changed arbitrarily, and also the post can be edited a posteriori. This way, the author has no base on which to potentially show "I suggested this earlier here". (Not so with comments btw, at least here on blogger neither the time-stamp nor the content of a comment can be altered). It would be easy enough to change this, for example by allowing a post to be "locked" in a certain version with the current date and content that can't be modified without reverting it to an unlocked state.

See also: Science and the Web 2.0

28 comments:

Neil' said...

I bring up some scientific proposals (not just "questions") here and elsewhere, and usually I get treated fairly well per point P2. Yet I still get the impression that most readers/commenters don't have time to deeply study something I advertise as a potential big deal, like my concept for measuring the amount of circular polarization in a single photon (well, let's try my impression out: One properly maintained photon passing through a half-wave plate one million times should act just like a million identical photons passing through a HWP once each, etc. To do that, we amplify the tiny spin of one photon by directing it many times (including a re-inversion so it enters flipped back to original spin superposition) through a HWP. Those many passes could transfer enough angular momentum to the plate to be detectable. Because HWPs curiously preserve the hybrid nature of photon spin, the result should be continuous along a range. It thus reveals how much circular polarization comprised that photon (as calculated from proportions of RH and LH base states.)

I understand that, and some people actually do take some substantial time to discuss with me issues like whether a body moving with very rapid transverse motion in a g-field acts like you'd expect from the Equivalence Principle.

Yet if per chance I did come up with something worthwhile, say an original genuine contribution (or say, the outlines of one) however humble, would it in reasonable time get recognized as such say here or on another blog? Would readers assume to start with it likely couldn't be, given the context and no name recognition, etc? I've had on average middle-brow level education on most of this, and I count as "an amateur" - but so does Carl Brannen, who has made real contributions to particle physics (and sometimes posts here.) The answer of course pertains to the question in general not just my own prospects.

BTW thanks to all those including Bee et al who did take the time to respond to my various comments, sometimes at length and with forbearance!

Plato said...

I have no real theory of my own, just observations.:)

I liked Michael's article and I read it before you posted.:)

You know most have never, I think defined for themself what "giving actually means of themself" in terms of progressing society and science by their contributions.

The likeness that they will ever be recognized for this contribution.

It is a community event per say, which is part of a much greater whole in that you can move another to consider, and from that, another step can be made. That's just the way it works.

A story in journalism, while of course asking for clarity and preciseness, still reaches the mind of Joe Public.

Ego and selflessness in "giving" is part of what one has to contend with, when they give. They must let it go without strings attached:) If Lazardis was to control Lee( or the institute, what do you think of the "openness" of that institue?

"Giving" has to include this resolution within self as too, yes, we can all play our part.

Who wants to perpetuate one's inadequate knowledge with what can be accomplished with help by those who know better? Those who are willing to give of their time being selfless? There can be "no strings" attached.:)

This very subject would be a hard one for people, just as the search for meaning as to what truth and reality is?

Bee said...

Hi Plato,
You said that very nicely. Problem is, people are used to follow their self-interests without paying attention to the whole because this is what their culture teaches them is the smart thing to do. As I've argued in my recent post it isn't automatically always the case that self-interests lead to a desired macrobehavior, and recognizing when it isn't already requires people to think further than the tip of their nose. That is to say, you can't recognize the value of giving if it isn't a value you have been taught to consider. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Neil,

You hit the nail on the head. People won't invest time in thinking about what you write unless it is clear to them what it's good for. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Well between what you and Michael wrote it is a good thing that even a short lived particle’s attention span is only relatively brief :-). After reading what both you and he have said on the matter, there isn’t really much to add.

I do however think what has been only partially admitted is that the greatest stumbling block to these methods and tools being incorporated into the system is it brings with it the certainty that it will be so greatly altered, that many would consider it destroyed. There is also the aspect that what constitutes power in business as being money, so the same is rare and restricted knowledge for many of those that aspire to, dwell in and maintain the ivory towers.

Lastly, yet most importantly what I feel is being down played, to the point of being ignored, is that to enact such a system moves us further away from being the singular mind, which many consider to represent to be the free one, and more towards the collective. Is it then also not both prudent and reasonable to question, that although the collective may have a lot to gain, will this also stand to be the same for the individual or that perhaps we are already so evolved in this direction that it not matter?

Best,

Phil

Anonymous said...

"P3: As long as scientists have to justify their existence by producing papers, and live in the constant fear of being scooped, their ideas are not meant to be shared."

I don't think that this is generally the rule. For example, look at two papers on this morning's arXiv:
0807.3196 Berkovits and Maldacena
0807.3228 Beisert, Ricci, Tseytlin, Wolf
From looking at the papers, the references, and the acknowledgements, it's clear that there has been a lot of cross-fertilization between the papers, and that the groups treat each other with mutual respect.

At least in the research subfields that I work in, this is the norm, and I have benefitted on several occasions from colleagues sharing notes on their research when it overlapped mine [and I have done likewise to help colleagues].

Bee said...

Hi Anonymous,

Sure, there are certainly cases of well working collaborations, and even competing groups can have fruitful exchanges, I know examples for this myself. But it's one thing to talk to a colleague you know, possibly since decades, and another thing to publicly post it on a website where potentially millions of people can read it that you've never heard of. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Well, whether a tool will prevail or not, as long as it works I'd say let's use it if it is helpful.

to enact such a system moves us further away from being the singular mind, which many consider to represent to be the free one, and more towards the collective.

I don't think this will ever happen, see my comment to S1. There always has to be the individual who brings up new ideas to contemplate, but the way in which to further process these ideas and potentially connect them with others' could work much better. This idea of the collective intelligence per se doesn't make much sense - you don't produce knowledge on the internet (unless possibly about the internet itself), you share it. I am reasonably sure the collectivity enthusiasm will fade away once people see that Wiki-ing has its limitations. I think this is just a temporary excitement caused by the enormous usefulness of that knowledge sharing. Since individual contributions are and will remain important esp in science it would be good to document them closely. This doesn't match well with the wiki-spirit. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I hope with the points I raised it’s understood that for the greatest part I was playing the devil’s advocate. Not only do I agree with most of what you and Michael say on the matter, yet realize also that much of it must happen if science and with it our species is to continue to progress and thrive. One of the interesting and currently relative statements that Michael made and I thought I might carry over here for my fellow kaon's is as follows”:

“To understand what this means, imagine you’re a scientist sitting on a hiring committee that’s deciding whether or not to hire some scientist. Their curriculum vitae reports that they’ve helped build an open science wiki, and also write a blog. Unfortunately, the committee has no easy way of understanding the significance of these contributions, since as yet there are no broadly accepted metrics for assessing such contributions. The natural consequence is that such contributions are typically undervalued.”

“How could you measure the different sorts of contributions a scientist can make on a blog - outreach, education, and research? These are not easy questions to answer. Yet they must be answered before scientific blogging will be accepted as a valuable professional scientific contribution.”

Now I wonder who we all know that this might be describing? As an observation Bee, with you now in the beginnings of seeking another position and also examining your own choices this must resonate strongly for you. I would then be curious to know if what Michael mentions as being currently not well understood, appreciated or unorthodox skills and experience will these be mentioned and emphasized in your own C.V. ?

Best,

Phil

Neil' said...

Yes Bee, perfectly understandable: People won't invest time in thinking about what you write unless it is clear to them what it's good for. That makes me wonder, aside from professional v. amateur considerations etc., (and for anyone to try and answer): how easily is it "clear" to knowledgeable readers, soon enough, that something is a worthwhile novelty or even good question that should be answered? If some significant point were put up in brief on a blog (whether by OP or commenter), would it be recognized as such by some sharp readers as well as if written up in more detail in a "real" journal? What what readers look for, to be able to discern this without spending lots of time working through things?

Also, how seriously are "online journals" taken (I mean, named journals and not e.g. ArXiv itself), how much are they cited etc? Just wondering, since in principle the Internet ought to be a great way to get genuinely important new ideas out, not just report on the known, argue, hash out offbeat casual notions, etc.

Plato said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stefan said...

Instead of a comment, here are two links loosley related to the topic I came across tonight:

Today's NYT in If You Have a Problem, Ask Everyone reports about an online service called innocentive that links organizations (seekers) with problems (challenges) to people all over the world (solvers) who win cash prizes for resolving them. - OK, there is an incentive for giving away insights ;-)

At Nature, it seems they are about to introduce a comment function to all articles published, and in Who comments on scientific papers - and why? at their Nascent Blog, there is a nice graph how such functionalities have been used so far.

Cheers, Stefan

Tony Smith said...

phil warnell says
"... imagine you’re a scientist sitting on a hiring committee ...[the]... curriculum vitae reports that they’ve helped build an open science wiki ...
such contributions are typically undervalued ...".

An outstanding counterexample is the arXiv.
After it had grown (under US government sponsorship at Los Alamos) to become the dominant repository of physics results and discussion,
a Cornell hiring committee valued Paul Ginsparg's arXiv enough to not only hire him but also to privatize the arXiv and bring it to Cornell.
He and his work were also highly valued and rewarded by the MacArthur Foundation.

phil warnell also mentions "... a system [that] moves us ... more towards the collective ...".
That also characterizes the arXiv.
Since Cornell privatized the arXiv, it has exercised increasingly rigid control of arXiv content, thus controlling not only who gets to participate in physics, but also what ideas get to participate in physics.
It seems to me to be more a Kafkaesque totalitarian controlled collective than a let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom collective.

Tony Smith

Neil' said...

Tony, I do worry about ArXiv since people say they reject unorthodox opinions of an unfavored type, and require proper affiliation (so how would someone like Brannen get started now with an ethanol plant to refer to, etc?) But are there "hacks" for getting worthwhile stuff in; for example you need a sponsor and if such is found I suppose a submission must either be just no good or else part of the undesired point of view (as I hear, too critical of string theory etc.) to be likely rejected?

Also, Wikipedia directly says they don't want novel content (like your own theories) put into articles even as side comment to another subject. But what if you have a decent contribution, it seems they should tolerate humbly written asides to the effect, "It could however be argued that ..." [fill in with some possible alternative interpretation.) Some say, just put that into the discussion pages but how many folks read that? In any case, did anyone ever get away with slipping something new into Wikipedia of value, that was recognized as such and now accepted as a good point?

BTW I think the operations Stefan refers to are great opportunities.

Tony Smith said...

neil' asked about ArXiv "... are there "hacks" for getting worthwhile stuff in ... for example you need a sponsor ..."?

Yes - for example Garrett Lisi's E8 paper was allowed to be in hep-th probably due to sponsorship/influence of Lee Smolin,
and
my understanding is that it is now the most-read paper of any on the arXiv, and widely (if controversially) discussed by many people from Jacques Distler to John Baez to Bert Kostant ... etc ...,
so
it is possible for new ideas to be heard,
but
that is not the usual fate of interesting new ideas.

My point was not so much that my stuff should be on arXiv,
but
to point out the trend from free expression of ideas (during the 1990s when arXiv was at Los Alamos I posted around a dozen papers there, about 5 in hep-th)
to efforts to control not only the content of papers but also to control who gets into the private club.

Such efforts by authorities to control ideas are sadly common in human history.

I am old and may not be around much longer, and I have enjoyed doing what I have done (particularly when I could post freely back in the 20th century),
so I am writing these comments not so much to try to get my current work posted on arXiv etc,
but
rather to call attention to the danger of possible ossification of a field, which is something that maybe young people should think about
when deciding how to spend their many decades of remaining life.

Tony Smith

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Tony,

"... imagine you’re a scientist sitting on a hiring committee ...[the]... curriculum vitae reports that they’ve helped build an open science wiki ...such contributions are typically undervalued ...".

Just as a clarifying point the words that you quote above were not mine yet rather Michael Neilson’s taken from his post Bee pointed to as serving as the inspiration for her post which she synopsized and added her own take. The point that was being made actually was when one was hiring a researcher say perhaps in a postdoc capacity does one award merit for such efforts and skill sets and if so how does one assess them? With Ginsparg he had already proven the value and as such they came knocking.

As for you second quote, that was mine and like it or not there must be some controls when it comes to such matters like having peer review and disallowing papers that plainly don’t present themselves as being science, as they lack the discipline’s objectives and method(s).

When I refer to the collective it is where meaningful discovery is only considered being achievable by a collective method and the ability of the individual being able to add anything outside this process becoming suspect and in that way repressed. However, as Bee says there is not much likelihood of that happening soon, as it’s been demonstrated time and time again, the genius factor cannot be entirely replaced by collective cooperation and effort and I for one agree. The collective method’s strength rests mainly with saving time and adding efficiency to the process, not so much for fostering and creating inspired insight.

Best,

Phil

Cahya said...

What an interesting article.
See you and have a nice blogging.

Andrew Thomas said...

Neil and Tony: Neil said "Tony, I do worry about ArXiv since people say they reject unorthodox opinions of an unfavored type".

I think many people who operate outside the scientific community who have revolutionary unorthodox opinions ("crackpot" is insulting and I'd never use the term) feel the whole of the scientific commmunity is against them, and they are being unfairly treated. But these people do not realise that unorthodox opinions would never be rejected out-of-hand. What would be rejected is unorthodox opinions which are poorly researched, which do not reference the work of others (either positively or negatively), papers which do not build on centuries of well-established scientific discoveries. If you're going to propose a revolutionary idea then you better be sure you have done your research thoroughly to back up your idea.

I think Max Tegmark's "mathematical universe" is a good example. Neil, how much more unorthodox can you be than that idea? But that idea was not rejected because of the acres of references and reading which Tegmark attached to his paper. Unorthodox opinions are not rejected - low-quality submissions are.

Neil, if you have a revolutionary idea then you would clearly feel motivated to put in a huge effort to get your work accepted by the scientific community. So basically spend every evening for the next three to six months reading relevant papers and writing a seminal, landmark, tightly-reasoned paper (with something of the order or approx. 70 references to related work if it's a such an important paper) explaining why your work is so important and how the orthodox view is clearly flawed. Explain how your work fits into established experimental results. Anticipate criticisms within your paper and answer them convincingly. There are no shortcuts. Then, if your work is really revolutionary, it will stand up and be seen as such.

Andrew Thomas said...

Back on topic, Bee, I get the impression there are hundreds of scientists read these postings but are reluctant to post anything for some of the reasons you suggest: potential embarrassment, damage to reputation, and some reasons which you don't suggest: apathy, fear. It's the same reasons why people post anonymously.

These people should come out of the closet and live life! They can't be a pussy all their lives.

Bee said...

Hi Andrew,

Ah, I have nothing against lurkers. I am a real-life lurker, I can very well understand there are many reasons to remain silent. One is lack of time. One other the realization that one has nothing to say. The typical blog-commenter has plenty of time on his hands and something to say about everything ;-)

But you are right in as far as scientific questions are concerned - not necessarily on blogs - it seems to me an even greater waster of time to read and then *not* offer an opinion or suggestion. Thus the post is supposed to say such contributions to sciencetific research should become better accepted and its relevance recognized. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Neil, Hi Andrew,

I agree with what Andrew says. The idea that people in academia are generally dismissive about unorthodox ideas is a myth. You don't make a career in science being closed minded. They are however dismissive about ideas that are poorly worked out or don't meet the scientific standards. Unfortunately, many of the self-declared geniuses one finds online fall into the latter category, the problem is they most often don't even notice it.

The question whether they would themselves work on something non-mainstream, or invest time and resources into someone who does, is a different point though.

I am reasonably sure the value of a good idea would be recognized be it published in a paper or on a blog - as long as somebody reads it.

As to the question of online journals. The decisive factor isn't online or print, it is peer-reviewed or not, in combination with the standards of the journal. (Not necessarily the impact factor. There are many journals with very high quality standards that are too specialized to have a high impact factor.)

Anyway, what Andrew says is absolutely correct: There are no shortcuts. If you think you have a great idea, it's not done with putting it on a blog. It will take years and years and years to work it out and to refine it and to publish it and to communicate it. Why do you think I say that funding in physics is too short-term to allow people to work out their ideas?

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

As an observation Bee, with you now in the beginnings of seeking another position and also examining your own choices this must resonate strongly for you. I would then be curious to know if what Michael mentions as being currently not well understood, appreciated or unorthodox skills and experience will these be mentioned and emphasized in your own C.V. ?

Well, I have a lot of unorthodox skills and experiences that will certainly not be emphasized in my CV. For example, I can blow out air through my right eye, no kidding. I think this is really interesting, but would it increase my chances on the job market? More seriously, my blog is currently mentioned in my CV, but I don't expect it to play any role for my jobsearch, it is more there because of completeness. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“For example, I can blow out air through my right eye, no kidding”

To tell you the truth I’ve never heard of anyone having such ability. Perhaps the mere mention of this could set off a flurry of research. I can only imagine the titles of the related papers it would produce:-)

“More seriously, my blog is currently mentioned in my CV, but I don't expect it to play any role for my jobsearch, it is more there because of completeness.”

Well that’s one thing about you Bee, for you are for the most part very up front and clear in the things you do or say. This is a quality that when I was younger and thought perhaps one day I might aspire to being a scientist that would be a commonality among the practitioners. Then I got older and discovered (and briefly disappointed) that this was not anymore prevalent among this group then any other. I believe this resistance to networking and openness, with it lagging in terms of other sectors stands as testament to that.

Best,

Phil

P.S. I noticed the addition of the live traffic feed in the side bar and it clearly demonstrates how global your blog is in terms of popularity which in itself is quite revealing and fascinating.

Plato said...

An equation means nothing to me unless it expresses a thought of God. Srinivasa Ramanujan

IN regards to the point on Tegmark and "the opinion."

Hmmmm...VSL.

I thought since this is so easily done without understanding the greater recognition "of relations" that a Poincaré and Klein may have in common, why not present a quote about someone else for comparison?:)

Then see if you feel the same?:)Working on one's intuitive framework can have it's drawbacks and maybe, one can indeed become disillusioned.

So you pick and choose?

Magueijo started reading Einstein when he was 11, but he wanted to comprehend the theory using mathematics rather than words. So he read a book by Max Born, which explains relativity in the language of mathematics. He quotes Galileo as having said, "The book of nature is written in the language of mathematics."

I do not know how scientists can not think that "Joe Public" out there is not as smart as them, or not have the same value system?:)

Oh, I am trying to trade mark "Joe Public":)Kidding, but it sure feels catchy.

Plato said...

Oh and it's good that people are picking up on the html language and expressing themselves in a scientific ways.

Imagine indeed how the dimensional languages that were inconceivable stories and were relegated to artistic interpretation, are now making there way into image production in ways that were unthinkable before the advent of the internet?

From Flatland to Hypergraphics: Interacting with Higher Dimensions

The first person to develop the dimensional analogy in the 19th century was the psychologist and physiologist Gustave Fechner in Leipzig. He wrote a small story, Space has Four Dimensions, as part of his collection Vier Paradoxe published in 1846 under the pseudonym of Dr. Mises. Fechner's two-dimensional creature was a shadow man projected to a vertical screen by an opaque projector. He could interact with other shadows, but, based on his limited experience, he could not conceive of a direction perpendicular to his screen. Fechner suggests that for such a being, time would be a third dimension, expressing the movement of his whole screen in a direction which he cannot comprehend spatially. The idea of treating shadow figures goes back much further, to Plato's Allegory of the Cave in the seventh book of The Republic. There the shadows are merely representations of objects to be viewed by three-dimensional observers who are artificially limited to seeing only these lower-dimensional views. Plato does not suggest that the shadows have the capability of interacting with one another, and this is the heart of Fechner's insight.

So such thinking in terms of how we see the cosmos(Sean Carroll is just discovering?:) is not that really hard to comprehend when one is considering the type of math in this context?:)

Neil' said...

Thanks for the various examples of advice here about how to get an idea out, regardless of one's "station in life." I and others do think there is some difficulty if you can't give an institutional address or even are too obscure. I remember a "sting" study (but not details or where published) in which already published papers were resubmitted as if by nobodies/ from nowhere and most of them weren't taken that time around.

Also, the large amount of exposition Andrew suggest wouldn't necessarily be necessary, so to speak. What if your point was a pithy new combination or circumvention or "paradox" and not an entire new theory, then I don't think such elaboration would be required. After all, shouldn't it be possible to summarize important new concepts and even the basic supporting argument? Indeed, the example I gave (about repeated passes of a photon through a "half-wave plate") in the first comment was intended to be a test case of that very sort of thing.

J. Firestone said...

Stepping back slightly from the interesting comment chain to the original post --

I see two aspects of this argument underexamined in this discussion so far:
1) Is it a lack of openness, or is it a lack of using the measures of openness that are being scrutinized? In other words, do people not share ideas today, or do they not share ideas on blogs or Web 2.0 tools?

2) I believe that apparent 'openness' and the lack of Web 2.0 tools comes (in addition to the three P: you offer) from the nature of the pressurized reward system in our fields.

Expanding 2) first: Learning Web 2.0 has a time investment for something that will be rusty if not obsolete when the next grant cycle comes. Teaching and outreach such as wiki, or educational websites is something that we are expected to do in a way that doesn't interfere with our evaluation metrics.

I am in Ecology, so there are certainly differences. I see extensive discussion, collaboration and networking in my field. Not perfect or universal, but not as territorial or afraid of 'scooping' as your discussions imply. Even so, there is limited adoption of new tools and communication styles -- even if we could get past the idea credit and risk, why spend the time not publishing to learn a new way of doing something that isn't rewarded?

Changing the reward system to include fractional ownership of ideas (your S3) helps.

This brings us back to 1)
There is also a problem with Nielsen's argument and our discussion of it if the measure for lack of openness is the lack of use of certain methods of communication to express that openness. Most of the discussion of openness here involves inadequate openness of ideas via the internet (web 2.0, wiki, arXiv). I ask the commenters -- are scientists less sharing now than 15 years ago, or are we just not sharing via the methods that can be counted on the internet and bemoaned over?

Is openness measured by blogging ideas and blog commenting or by the number of authors trend? Perhaps openness hasn't changed in the last 40 years, but it can now be measured in Internet Technique Units. Was the lack of science blog comments and discussion a problem merely 8 years ago when there were <100 blogs extant and no web 2.0? Were we reluctant to share information then, because that is how much of this argument is structured -- lack of internet openness is lack of openness. Even the gatekeeper arguments recall the criticism of 'old-boy networks' of paper journal reviewing in the earlier time that may or may not have been more open.

This is not contradicting interesting ideas already in this discussion, but an other aspect, I hope. I would be fascinated by any responses to my extension you might have.

~Jeff Firestone, (nearing a) PhD in Ecology

p.s. P2 about risk of incorrectness reminds me strongly about the challenges of typically 'female' communication styles in the scientific workplace. In generalities, it has been observed that women are more likely to not state an opinion until they are confident in it, and have sufficient facts, while a typically 'male' communication style encourages speculation, assertion and rebuttal, and has a higher acceptability of being wrong. Does this form a difference in openness among genders? If the classically 'male' style is risk taking and competitive, while the other would less often risk the wrong comment but be more open to openness form a openness limiting paradox?

bellamy said...

The degree of disclosure one is personally capable of is proportional to their degree of emotional flexibility - the connotation of flexibility not being that of tolerance, but of vibrance balanced by lack of attachment.