Friday, July 31, 2009

And how open would you want your science?

I just read Dan's recent post "What, exactly, is Open Science?" He names four fundamental goals of open science:
  • Transparency in experimental methodology, observation, and collection of data.
  • Public availability and reusability of scientific data.
  • Public accessibility and transparency of scientific communication.
  • Using web-based tools to facilitate scientific collaboration.

These seem to be rather experimentally focussed, so let me add some words from the perspective of a theorist. Since I just finished reading Surowiecki's "Wisdom of Crowds" (see review), I feel now better equipped to get across something I already said in my post We Are Einstein, so let me quote myself and then explain:

"[A]n environment with a very high interaction rate thermalizes quickly, and can be very destructive in the early stage of an idea's development. A highly connected community means we’ll have to watch out very carefully for sociological phenomena that might affect objectivity, and work towards premature consensus. We will have to watch out for fads that grow out of proportion, and we will have to find a way to protect the young ideas that “you have to ram down people's throats,” in Atkin's words, until people are ready to swallow them. There is no reason to assume scientists are immune to sociological effects."
With the wisdom I gathered out of Surowiecki's book, the point I was trying to make is that sharing too much information and being too tightly connected will actually lead to a dumb rather than a smart community.

Yes, that is right. What I am saying is that all the sharing and openness can actually harm progress. In fact, I think we already share way too much too premature information. The reason is that scientists too are only human. If we hear some colleagues talk who are genuinely excited about a topic, chances are we'll get interested. If we have an idea in an early stage and bounce it off a lot of people, it will lose its edges because we'll try to make it fit. If we hear something repeatedly, we are likely to think it's of some relevance. If we know the opinions of other people, in particular people with a higher social status or more experience, we'll try to fit in. That's what humans do. That's why crowds make dumb decisions. That's how groupthink starts, that's where herding comes from, that's how hypes and bubbles are created. As Surowiecki points out, independence during the opinion making process is essential for an outcome that reflects all the wisdom present in the crowd.

Of course nothing of that applies to you, the superior and entirely rational scientist, because you are different. Funny though that study after study shows scientists are just like all other people.

Dan writes in his post that he wants the incentive structure to be changed such that it supports openness. With that he means "Work. Finish. Publish. Release." Again, this seems specific to experiment (a theory is released when it's published). I do of course agree on the goal, but not on the means. I am generally suspicious about any "incentives" that are supposed to push scientists into doing something they wouldn't voluntarily do. We do have such incentives today. And they are counterproductive. I don't want them to be replaced with other incentives that somebody cooked up on his blog and that likely turn out to be equally counterproductive, though for other reasons. That's why I say the only thing we have to rely on is our own judgement and what we should be doing is to avoid any distortion of the opinion making processes. And for that, we should be paying attention to what advice our colleagues from psychology and sociology have to offer.

Sometimes when I hear Science2.0 fans fantasize about the brave new world they want to create, one in which every scientist throws his thoughts into a vast global pool of knowledge and thousands colleagues contribute and advise, I get really scared. For all we can tell from current knowledge, the result will be a combination of streamlining and self-supporting fads. What scientists really need is more time and more freedom to play with their ideas without pressure to fit in, to publish, to make up their mind.

Thus, my bottomline is always the same: You can dream up any 2.0 utopia you want. But in reality it will be populated with imperfect, irrational humans. If you're not taking into account well studied sociological and psychological effects your utopia will be a dystopia. Science can be too open.

49 comments:

Rob Knop said...

I've definitely seen it happen in various contexts that when you share ideas early on, you get either a whole lot of reasons why it's not worth doing, or a whole lot of additional constraints you have to place on it that kill your motivation.

When somebody later starts just *doing* the idea without having solicited the feedback first, I congratulate them for either ignoring all the naysayers, or for just doing it.

I'm all for sharing and transparency and all that. I think that when you *do* share your results, you should share them absolutely as openly as possible. But, yes, in the early stages of something, if you really want to get it done, sometimes it's better to just *do* it rather than solicit all the feedback everybody thinks you should solicit.

(This is also why people who write successful NSF proposals -- a group that does not include me -- propose to do what they've already done. The whole process is stupid.)

Uncle Al said...

Progress is an ice pick not a fluffy blanket. Good science requires compulsion, monomania, movement beyond the herd... and above all profound intelligence threatening and repulsive to mediocrity. It is MIT and Caltech or an incessant dark night.

We are deeply embarked upon skinning the balloon of First World civilization to remove tensions. We sacrifice all to benefit the Officially Sad. We twitter least publishable bits. Listen to the rush of hot gas. (Joule-Thompson inversion temperature for H2 and He)

http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/fqxi.htm

Michael F. Martin said...

I agree with so much of this that I feel a little bad about playing "the devil's advocate" here (ha!), but I have to quibble a little with this notion of sharing work too early.

Having just reread the preface to Nozick's *Anarchy, State, and Utopia*, I have to say that I find his attitude toward his work more agreeable than the more prevalent attitude of philosophers, who tend to present their work as the final word on whatever subject. It's not that we shouldn't try to push the ball forward as far as we can on our own before we impose on others for feedback. It's just that how far along should count as significant *should* be shorter in a world where communication is so much easier and cheaper. There's a lot of good thinking gettig done on blogs now (like this one?), and that trend is going to continue unabated, regardless of our worries about groupthink. I think the same basic skills that prevented groupthink in journals will apply to blogs. Just on a more granular scale.

Giotis said...

Hi Bee,

In general terms there are two opposite tendencies in a human, the need to belong somewhere (i.e. to be part of a community and to fit in) and the need to differentiate himself from the 'crowd'. So your argument could be reversed. Someone may support strange implausible claims just to rebel against the 'common opinion'.

As for the specific issue, I don't see how this is different from what is happening now or 50 years ago? You don't study the current theories or the work of other people? You don't get influenced by their arguments and their POV? You don't go to conferences to get informed about the current developments and trends? The individual of course is also a product of the community in which he participates; No man or woman is an island and you can't work in vacuum. I don't see how sharing data, ideas and thoughts could do any harm. It would only improve you I think and correct your misconceptions. The way you'll get influenced by the community of course is a matter of character and a matter of skills. It depends on how strong scientist and person you are. If you truly believe your ideas and you can defend them with reasonable arguments within your community, then I don't see any problem. A really good idea will eventually shine. If on the other hand someone follows blindly what other people say or obeys unquestionably any authority then maybe this is exactly what he deserves.

Of course if you just mean that a scientist should be free to develop new ideas and to follow different paths in research, then I completely agree with you but I don't see how this is connected to open science.

Leibniz said...

As a former mathematician :-), retired from a career in aerospace engineering, I'll pass on a saying some of us had in industry:

In a meeting, IQ's add like resistors in parallel.

Obvious parallel.

Bee said...

Hi Rob,

Yes. That's exactly what I meant. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Michael,

Well, I didn't say that thought exchange is generally harmful, neither did I say one shouldn't use the improved opportunities for communication. They are certainly beneficial, especially for those scientists who are in locations where there are few or no people sharing their interests, and of course because the internet is a vital source of information. What I said is that scientists shouldn't be pushed into "openness," ie reaching out, sharing, discussing etc should be voluntary and it should be up to them to decide on which stage of the creative process they find it beneficial. In many cases, "incentives" are just an euphemism for pushing people into doing something they don't want to do, that's what I'm wary of.

Neither btw did I speak about blogs. I have said several times that I don't think blogs are such a great tool for scientific exchange for several reasons. They also pose significant challenges to our communication skills, as you can see every time a blog discussion turns nasty or remains pointless. What I was thinking of was more the constant, breathless exchange of information in general, the who said what did what thought about what and who thought what about what who thought and so on. Especially in fields where experimental tests are slow, this creates speculative bubbles in the same way as on the stock-market: it matters what other people think about some stock/theory for whether it's value will raise and whether you can make money/citations with it. These effects get amplified with more mutually shared information.

I think the same basic skills that prevented groupthink in journals will apply to blogs. Just on a more granular scale.

Well if you argue blogs will go the same way as journals, I am sure a lot of people would see that as a pretty bad development. But in addition to this, the frequency and amount of exchanged information makes a qualitative difference. The world has changed in an absolute meaning, and so has academia. There's more people, there's more information, there's a faster and more frequent exchange of information. There is no reason to assume this will not cause problems because we haven't had problems before. Instead, as I have argued in my post, there is good reason to assume we will have problems because of many studies that have examined the effects of dependent opinion making. Scientists aren't immune to sociological effects.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

PS: Regarding the sociological problems with journals, see here.

Michael F. Martin said...

Bee,

I'm in broad agreement with you. I think there are possibly interesting differences in how we view the details of the sociology, especially on the Internet.

Incentives certainly matter, and far more than most people give them credit. In particular, nobody thinks themselves subject to bias upon having taken funding from a particular source, for example. In my experience, however, the results of a given project are seldom presented in a way that would be inconvenient to the source of funding. That's a serious problem. One way to solve it is to stay single. Another is to get married. The latter is ultimately holds more promise on my view. The key to a healthy marriage, in this case, is ensuring that academia and industry stay committed to a long-term relationships, even when they have disagreements over particular issues in the short-run. Getting divorced just isn't healthy, especially for the kids (i.e., the students). Maybe you agree with me on this? Probably partly.

On blogs also, I see what you see, and agree that there is the potential for the opinion space to reduce in dimensionality before all the data are in. But I'm not sure that I agree that higher-bandwidth feedback loops make that more likely. Sure it makes the process faster; but then it also makes the reversal of the process faster -- i.e., the discovery of systematic errors through failure and recovery. So overall we might be better off with blogging even though we haven't solved the fundamental problems of herd behavior and groupthink.

So I think we see the same problems at work both online and offline. What I hope is that having digital trails available for study (by economists, sociologists, physicists) might eventually help identify the variables that do determine when herd behavior and groupthink have taken hold, and perhaps even to prevent that or harness that.

But that kind of institutional design is quite old. Indeed, "the devil's advocate" is a feature of institutional design in the Vatican's process of canonization. What could be more useful than a science of decisionmaking? We have more data than ever before to study group dynamics. That at least give us a certain fondness for blogging.

Bee said...

Hi Giotis,

You are right, these opposing tendencies exist. Indeed, Surowiecki points this out in his book. There are those people who will not conform, no matter what, who will do their own thing. Studies show however that the vast majority of people is not of this type. They imitate, they orient themselves on others, they herd, they try to fit in. I have no reason to assume that scientific communities are different in that regard. That's the reality I say one has to deal with. (Though Charlton certainly wants them to be.)

So your argument could be reversed.

Only if you can show that scientists are by nature different from average humans.

Someone may support strange implausible claims just to rebel against the 'common opinion'.

Sure, these people certainly exist. Supporting strange claims just to rebel is however equally dumb as supporting plausible claims just to conform. You don't win anything by that.

As for the specific issue, I don't see how this is different from what is happening now or 50 years ago?

See my reply to Michael above. Of course all of that happened already in the last some hundred centuries. The point is that it's vastly amplified today, and so are the effects.

No man or woman is an island and you can't work in vacuum.

Sure. As I've said many times, science is a community enterprise. What I'm trying to convey is that there are many ways for there not to be vacuum and some might be more, others less supportive for progress.

I don't see how sharing data, ideas and thoughts could do any harm. It would only improve you I think and correct your misconceptions. The way you'll get influenced by the community of course is a matter of character and a matter of skills.

Yes, and if you look at what research says are average character and skills, then too much sharing is not beneficial for intelligent decision making. How it can harm? Read Rob's comment for starters, read Surowiecki's book for more examples. The problem is not with simply sharing a piece of information, but some rating of that information. I have no problem with sharing data or releasing code. That's neutral. I have a problem with sharing opinion. Does that data look sober. Is that the way other groups did their coding? Does Mr VIP think an idea is interesting? Should one pay attention to some news item? Fact is, just reading or hearing something repeatedly makes people think it is more important. Worse if it comes from source with authority. You can deny that effect to exist. Research shows it does exist. What I'm saying is simply scientists are human. There are dozens of studies telling us what to watch out for. We shouldn't just dismiss them because we believe we're somehow better than the average human being. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Michael,

Well, obviously I agree that we are better off with blogging :-) I hope it is clear that I didn't mean to say there is inevitably a problem with scientists making use of Web 2.0 tools. Certainly not. I am just saying one has to use tools wisely, and that means one should pay attention to all relevant studies, which includes sociology and psychology. I think we agree on that anyway. There is a vast potential in the new technology, but to use it wisely one has to take into account human weaknesses. Best,

B.

Rob Knop said...

Leibniz -- I've heard a similar thing : the IQ of a committee is the lowest IQ of any individual member in the committee, divided by the number of people on the committee.

Ricardo Pietrobon said...

Bee, let me respectfully disagree with your argument, which seems to get two separate concepts mixed up. No question that opening up an early idea to the community might lead to its premature death, but openness once a result is released is a different issue altogether. So, let's split the two:

1. The ability to have access to as much information about a scientific project (experimental or not) is a strength, always.

2. Where I think you are going is that sometimes we as researchers might have intuitions about an explanation that are weakly backed up by the data and information we currently have. In this situation more data should be collected and more analyses should be conducted before the researcher can make a compelling case. But this is way different from saying that the researcher hiding data or information (the opposite of item 1 above) would kill her idea.

Phil Warnell said...
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Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

- Transparency in experimental methodology, observation, and collection of data.
- Public availability and reusability of scientific data.
- Public accessibility and transparency of scientific communication.
- Using web-based tools to facilitate scientific collaboration.

To me your above quoted list of points sounds much like current ideas on how to keep our political and business systems honest and incorruptible, rather than a methodology for increasing what is known about the world. This also has a lot of undertones which suggests wrongly that science is somehow democratic in natural, rather than largely hierarchical as it is. I think since the dawn of science, its has had its prophets and its followers; with the prophets shifting the paradigms, while the followers mainly filling in the blanks to the point where something(s) new doesn’t fit any more, which again has the need for new prophets to find new direction that fit better the situation.

The thing is these prophets are not so much the product of the group, yet rather something unique in itself, that keeps it vital and viable, much like what a queen bee does for her hive (sorry no pun intended). In the case of the hive the collective does have a ability to create what it needs when necessary, yet in the scientific community it can at best only recognize when they have one, with little or no ability to create them. I therefore see nothing in the above list of points which assures increasing our ability beyond simple recognition, with perhaps not even able to improve this significantly.

The reason of course is as with the hive the goal is simply survival, where the correct solution is clearly identified being found since it has continued. Now one could say that our species has come to the point where it depends largely on science for its survival, yet it is a method in itself, rather than an attribute, which finds solution through reason, rather than simply the random action of attrition. In this herd or hive I would ask, is truth identified by what survives or rather what demonstrates able to have it expand to know more? In life we find two ends to this spectrum, where the best survivors are viruses, while the creatures’ best exemplifying and amplifying the method of reason being us. I would ask simply then, which one represents what group best capable of discovering the truth of reality, rather than just simply being the best adept to survive it?

In the end I think the greatest role the expansion of communication can play is to have more to understand the questions, rather than direction to the answers. It also might have some ability to groom and indentify new prophets of science, if and when the need arises, which I think it can be safely said this being one of those times.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Ricardo,

I wasn't talking about access to results. Of course I do think that this access should be open. And yes, open to everybody and without fees etc. I also think Dan has definitely a point with requesting transparency in methodology and availability of data etc. I find it pretty frustrating if data and methods are basically hidden, code used not public, and details of the code have to be searched for in a bulk of badly written (or Japanese) PhD thesis. I think we agree on that.

As to your point 1, I don't agree. I don't think access to information is always a strength, because if that information is faulty, and conclusions premature and should not be public yet, it might result in the best case in waste of time, in the worst case in wrong conclusions that lead science unneccesarily astray for a long time. It depends a lot on how (and by whom) information is presented.

As far as experiment is concerned there's a reasonably hard core (though we all know how methodology can change results and conclusions). But take theory instead (the purpose of my post was to add the theoretical perspective). Without experimental tests, the relevance of a theory depends strongly simply on how interesting people think they are. That's the bottomline. You can talk a lot about elegance and naturalness and simplicity etc, but that's just evading the fact that what matters before Nature's judgement is known is what people think is interesting. There's nothing a priori wrong with that, just that this means it has to be avoided to skew scientists' interests. And we know from many studies interest is easily influenced by where information comes from, how often it is heard, how it is presented, etc. What I'm saying is it's not always a strength to share. It depends how you share, when you share, what you share and who shares. Mutual dependence and skewed opinions dumb down the "wisdom" a group can have.

As to 2. I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. Certainly a researcher shouldn't "hide" data or information that is relevant to a published result. But that wasn't even remotely what I was saying. What I was trying to express is that researchers shouldn't feel the need to share data, methods, or ideas before they have reached a conclusion. That doesn't mean if they feel like sharing earlier they shouldn't be allowed. It just says there shouldn't be any pressure. And I don't want "incentives" to push them into a direction where it becomes jobwise smart to burp out every hickup that crosses their way.

I frankly think we do already publish too often and too premature. Many people give talks about research in the doing. Because that's what people are asking for: what's new? We constantly meet on conferences, we know what everybody thinks about everything and everybody. Now you can say isn't that great? So much shared knowledge! Wisdom will emerge! That's the way to progress! What I am saying is that studies show if people in communities pay too much attention to each others' opinion, if they share too much information, this will amplify rather than average out their mistakes. That doesn't necessarily have to be a problem if we take these sociological effects into account, but we shouldn't simply dismiss them in the naive believe that more information sharing is always better.

If you haven't done so, I do really recommend you read Surowiecki's book. He explains that much better than I do.
Best,

B.

Bee said...

Rob, Leibniz,

While there is some truth in these jokes, I didn't mean to say neither groups necessarily come to bad conclusions nor information sharing in communities is counterproductive. There are qualifiers for circumstances under which groups make good decisions, cases in which shared knowledge leads to insights, and circumstances that distort the knowledge finding process. Independence of people in the group and neutral information are two such qualifiers necessary for "smart" groups, and if we want open science, we should make sure they are fulfilled. Best,

B.

Zephir said...

/*..what scientists really need is more time and more freedom to play with THEIR ideas without pressure to fit in, to publish, to make up THEIR mind...*/

This is indeed true, until scientists want to keep priority of ideas. While science is payed from mandatory fees and taxes, the principle of communism apparently doesn't work here - important aspect of such approach is to become famous. In particular, it's contemporary grant system reflecting number of publications and their impact (i.e. popularity), which keeps contemporary science superficial and extensive. Newton tarried twenty years before publishing his calculus, I premeditated my ideas eight years before presenting them on public.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Zephir,

“ Newton tarried twenty years before publishing his calculus, I premeditated my ideas eight years before presenting them on public. “

The now most widely accepted view as to why Newton held his discovery of calculus as a secret, is to have his persona of being the greatest of geniuses to be heightened by withholding his method used to calculate and assess much within his developed mechanics.

It was then only upon the publishing of Leibnitz separate discovery, which prompted him to hastily publish and then act in the most vicious and vilest of manners claiming Leibnitz as being a plagiarist. As not to take me wrong, it must be admitted Newton undeniably was a genius, yet one where this was only exceeded by his most flawed of human frailties being his vanity.

Therefore, Newton's legacy should serve to remind scientists, if for nothing else, is that the secrets of nature be their adversary and not their colleagues; as they are your allies, brothers and sisters in arms, in the quest reminded by Einstein being more important then what it discovers; for this surely demonstrates mankind at its best.

Regards,

Phil

Zephir said...

Hi Phill, it's notoriously known, Mr. Newton didn't publish many his inventions (fluxon theory, solution of three body problem, sextant, etc.) not because of conviction of geniality - but from exactly opposite reasons: because of his perfectionism and pathological fear of critic.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Hi Zephir,

“it's notoriously known, Mr. Newton didn't publish many his inventions (fluxon theory, solution of three body problem, sextant, etc.) not because of conviction of geniality - but from exactly opposite reasons: because of his perfectionism and pathological fear of critic.”

An interesting opinion, is it another of your own, or is it based on actual research you can document or cite, say like by way of source and reference?

Regards,

Phil

geri said...

I think open should not be understood as working together in huge groups. It is rather about arXiv or sharing measurements. In that sense physics quite open, especially compared to those sciences providing arguments against working open. I think success is on the open side.

Do you know the work of Karin Knorr Cetina? She is an sociologist who observed working processes at CERN. Besides articles in popular newspapers [1] and interviews [2] in german rather hard to find, thanks to the anti-openess of here science ...

Besides strong rejection of new ideas is probably just what makes us human ... Was a problem before arXiv, just think of spin.

[1] http://wissen.spiegel.de/wissen/dokument/dokument.html?titel=Urknall+auf+Erden&id=57781776
[2] http://www.drs.ch/www/de/drs/sendungen/kontext/5005.bt10048707.html

Giotis said...

Hi Bee,

I see that you are much more informed on this issue than me and your arguments are backed up by research as you said. Since I have no reason to doubt you, I'll pass, but before doing so I will list a couple of intuitive reasons that support in my opinion the claim that scientists are less subjective to herding than the general population, as you asked me to do. Of course you know better but anyway...


1) Scientists are more ambitious and eager to distinguish themselves than the average person.

2) The vast majority of them entered in science in order to discover the truth. This is their main motivation and most of them are not willing to compromise by following ideas that don't believe in order to fit in.

3) Scientists are more self-centered than the average person and have a stronger personality or stubbornness:-).

4) The rewards for discovering something by yourself are greater than those if you are part of a larger group of scientists doing exactly the same thing. Thus, good new ideas are rewarded.

5) Scientists in general are more educated than the average person and so more judgmental. They don't take anything for granted and they have to be convinced in order to follow an idea.

6) The very nature of their work requires a great deal of lonely work. Don't forget the Hollywood myth of the lonely scientist working in his basement. Although this is more or less a myth, where there is smoke there is fire and there is some truth in it.
So even with open science the risk of group thinking is not that big. On the contrary the need is to make scientists to cooperate more.

7) Scientists don't follow blindly abstract ideas. They are equipped with powerful tools i.e. facts and experiments, theoretical and mathematical consistency; in other words the scientific method. If for example an authority says nonsense that are not backed up by any of the above, he will loose his credibility within the community; or at least this is what I want to believe it will happen:-). Not to mention that if there is an open vivid channel of communication within the community the nonsense could be uncovered more easily.

Bee said...

Zephir: While science is payed from mandatory fees and taxes...

Plus private donations which especially in North America weigh in heavily.

Arun said...

While think-oogling about this blog post, I came across this

Assume he is correct, then it seems to me that even the degree of openness needs to vary over the evolutionary cycle :)

(What I was really searching for was a famous statement on the different motivations for people to enter science. :) )

-----

Four stages of a scientific discipline; four types of scientist

Alexander M. Shneidera

aCure Lab, 43 Rybury Hillway, Needham, MA 02492, USA

Available online 9 April 2009.

In this article I propose the classification of the evolutionary stages that a scientific discipline evolves through and the type of scientists that are the most productive at each stage. I believe that each scientific discipline evolves sequentially through four stages. Scientists at stage one introduce new objects and phenomena as subject matter for a new scientific discipline. To do this they have to introduce a new language adequately describing the subject matter. At stage two, scientists develop a toolbox of methods and techniques for the new discipline. Owing to this advancement in methodology, the spectrum of objects and phenomena that fall into the realm of the new science are further understood at this stage. Most of the specific knowledge is generated at the third stage, at which the highest number of original research publications is generated. The majority of third-stage investigation is based on the initial application of new research methods to objects and/or phenomena. The purpose of the fourth stage is to maintain and pass on scientific knowledge generated during the first three stages. Groundbreaking new discoveries are not made at this stage. However, new ways to present scientific information are generated, and crucial revisions are often made of the role of the discipline within the constantly evolving scientific environment. The very nature of each stage determines the optimal psychological type and modus operandi of the scientist operating within it. Thus, it is not only the talent and devotion of scientists that determines whether they are capable of contributing substantially but, rather, whether they have the ‘right type’ of talent for the chosen scientific discipline at that time. Understanding the four different evolutionary stages of a scientific discipline might be instrumental for many scientists in optimizing their career path, in addition to being useful in assembling scientific teams, precluding conflicts and maximizing productivity. The proposed model of scientific evolution might also be instrumental for society in organizing and managing the scientific process. No public policy aimed at stimulating the scientific process can be equally beneficial for all four stages. Attempts to apply the same criteria to scientists working on scientific disciplines at different stages of their scientific evolution would be stimulating for one and detrimental for another. In addition, researchers operating at a certain stage of scientific evolution might not possess the mindset adequate to evaluate and stimulate a discipline that is at a different evolutionary stage. This could be the reason for suboptimal implementation of otherwise well-conceived scientific policies.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Arun,

This quote you cite, sounds like someone attempting to fit something into a box for which no one has been able to confirm its edges :-)

Best,

Phil

Zephir said...

/*..an interesting opinion, is it another of your own..*/
I can ask you for the same thing in symmetrical way, don't you think?

Anyway, I'm always doing a review, before suggesting some opinion:

"..The strongest criticism of Newton's work, however, concerned his work on the theory of gravity and came from English inventor, mathematician, and curator of the Royal Society Robert Hooke. Hooke insisted that he had suggested fundamental principles of the law of gravitation to Newton. Newton answered these objections carefully and at first patiently but later with growing irritation. These public arguments aggravated Newton's sensitivity to criticism, and for several years he stopped publishing his findings."

Arun said...

Hi Phil,
It looked interesting. If there was more openness in science, then I wouldn't have to purchase the article to read it, and then I would have read it :)

Anyway, the quote I'm really looking for mentions three types of scientists, one set looking to show how bright they are, the second set forget what, and the third set really selfless worshippers at the altar of science. Can't find it. Maybe I misremember it.

Best,
-Arun

Bee said...

My guess for the second set would be the pragmatists. The it's-what-I-know-it's-what-I-do-for-a-living people. You don't find them so often in foundational research though.

Zephir said...

/*Plus private donations which especially in North America weigh in heavily.../
due the liberal tax-compensation policy.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Zephir,

Well I guess this impeccable source of unquestionable relevance has slammed the lid down tight on this one;-)

Best,

Phil

stefan said...

Concerning "killing new ideas" old style, I came today across the story of Ralph Kronig, who as a graduate student in 1925 had the idea of electron spin. He discussed it with Pauli, who thought it was nonsense, and hence, Kronig did not publish.

Essentially the same idea was then published by Uhlenbeck and Goudsmit, also still students at the time, but with Ehrenfest as advisor, who told them that they were young and could afford writing crazy papers.

Cheers, Stefan

stefan said...

Oh, I see only now that this is the example Geri was alluding to... funny coincidence!

Zephir said...

The censorship and pathological skepticism is indeed the main problem of contemporary science. Maybe even worse, the in the times of Galileo. Nothing has changed from medieval times here.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Arun,

As you are aware my greatest compliant in regards to the open access of information is that currently it doesn’t exist and I’m wondering if it ever truly will. It’s not that the powers that be have to worry that they will be faced with a better informed public as a result, since the general utility of the internet found by most has little or nothing to do with this. Perhaps though unlike the library of Alexandria, if people ever did catch on they would be faced with destroying all the distractions it provides if they found the need to burn it all down :-)

As to that quote you thought you read, you were not imagining it for it was how Einstein thought scientists break down and is found in a book by Rick Szostak entitled 'Classifying Science' on page 163 and reads as follows:

“ Einstein suggested that there were three types of scientists, those that worked to exercise their talents, those who viewed science as a career and could have just as easily have pursued other careers, and those that viewed science as a vocation; he argued that the last group had an impact much greater than their numbers.”

One thing for certain you got the gist of it and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that memory of yours.

Best,

Phil

Pope Maledict XVI said...

In connection with this issue I note that today's arXiv has an article by Paul Ginsparg about the importance of arranging things so that your paper is at the top of the daily listings. An amazing number of people do this, or try to do it, with varying levels of success of course. And now this childish game is out in the open, as required by "open science". Frankly I would have preferred that Ginsparg keep this secret; it is depressing that so many colleagues turn out to be high-IQ idiots.

Naturally, everyone today had a look to see who had the first paper on the list today. The answer is....unsurprising.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bee,

it is interesting what you write, when I think of what I thought about Einstein's General Theory of Relativity or even Special Relativity at my first reading of his original articles. Today I've made some progress. I still have problems about the understanding what spacetime really is and what time f.e. plays for a role in SR and GR.

What do I want to say ? I want to say, you're right: one often says someone is right, without knowing what he really says.

Kay zum Felde

Anonymous said...

Hi Bee,

In SR clocks play the role of time, but what does spacetime plays for a role in GR. I have found aninteresting article by Carlo Rovelli:

http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/9903045

about the problem of quantizing spacetime. He talks there about spacetime in GR.

Greetings

Kay zum Felde

Arun said...

Hi Phil,
Your lead enabled me to find this - it is part of a larger passage that now I must find:

"“In the temple of science are many mansions, and various indeed are they that dwell therein and the motives that have led them hither. Many take to science out of a joyful sense of superior intellectual power; science is their own special sport to which they look for vivid experience and the satisfaction of ambition; many others are to be found in the temple who have offered the products of their brains on this altar for purely utilitarian purposes. Were an angel of the Lord to come and drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, the assemblage would be seriously depleted, but there would still be some men, of both present and past times, left inside.” - Einstein

Bee said...

Hi Pope,

Yes, he talked about this on our last year's conference. Video and audio here. Best,

B.

Giotis said...

Stefan about that story you told.

These things happen. That's life. People communicate and interact with each other and this interaction always has consequences. How it could be otherwise?

Anyway this reminds me an old joke.

Someone asks a guy what kind of books does he read; and the guy replies:

"I don't read. I don't want to get influenced":-)

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

It is of course no coincidence these points overlap with similar ideas in other parts of our lives. Such cross-pollination happens frequently, take eg the idea of the "landscape" which has traveled from biology to physics to politics. This can cause problems however since the use of ideas in other parts of our lives usually requires some adaption. Politics is not biology. Science is not economics.

I would prefer to call science self-organizing instead of democratic. The problem is that though in a linguistic sense the word democratic works well, most people connect it with a predefined mechanism to arrive at decisions as well as the presence of governing and regulating institutions, which is not the case for scientific communities. We also talked about the similarities and differences here.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Giotis,

I strongly doubt 1) and 3). You find these qualifications in many other jobs as well. 2) sounds nice, but I think a lot of people just enter science because they are interested in it. Frankly, who would say he's not interested in discovering the truth about anything? 4) Isn't specific for science.

I tend to agree on 5), 6) and 7), though I have no evidence either. But this is why I think it can be helpful to just tell scientists to be aware of human cognitive biases. Research has shown e.g. that just telling people to be rational does actually make it more likely they do make rational decisions. For the same reason I think it would be useful if scientists learn some basic facts about the sociology of science, psychology and identity theory. This becomes more important the larger scientific communities become, and the better connected they are. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Arun,

This latest quote of Einstein you left you didn’t mark a source. I be curious to know what that might be since as you know such things interest me.

Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,


It’s interesting that you would call science “self organizing”, rather than democratic, as it plays into how I was comparing it to evolution, yet one with differing methodology and goals. The goal of evolution is to assure continuance through the use of constant charge arbitrated by survival, while the goal of science, through the use of reason, arbitrated by experiment is to increase knowledge and understanding of the natural world. I think too often the two are confused, as the former being a natural process and the latter a process which attempts to understand all of them, including evolution. It seems to me that today the way science is judged is as to how well certain ideas survive to simply propagate, rather than how well they serve in the understanding nature.


That is all this business about the worth and strength of citation, coupled with the sheer weight of the amount one publishes, appears more like an evolutionary process only one without an arbitrator which survival and continuance serves to be in the evolutionary process. That’s to say what is truth in nature is what survives to continue, yet is this the same arbitrator for science. One could say the answer to this is yes, yet only if what one calls continuance and survival is replaced with what works in nature, rather than what we would have it to be.


So with all this transparency, accessibility and increased communication, what or who serves as being the arbitrator in the end; in a theoretical background where the value of observation through experiment has been downplayed so much with theories that include all possibility, rather than only the one that is in question. What I’m saying, somewhere in all this science has become something where its own propagation is more important than the purpose it serves, which is to be interested in possible truths, rather then actual ones. Perhaps when science is done with what are all the actual truths can it move on to creating realities of the ones it chooses to have exist. Then again is this ever actually to be considered the job of a scientist?



Best,


Phil

P.S. Sorry once again for all the erasers. Than again perhaps others should do this more often if something they say is confused or perhaps even wrong :-)

Zephir said...

No doubt, overly egalitarian environment is demotivating, as we know from history of socialism...

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327195.600-cosy-social-networks-are-stifling-innovation.html

Arun said...

Phil:

http://www.e-scoala.ro/biblioteca/albert_einstein2.html

I have a feeling Einstein elaborated on this theme elsewhere.

-Arun

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Arun.

Thanks for the reference, although I should be somewhat ashamed since I have the book it can be found in, being Ideas and Opinions. However, in that book this lecture is entitled “Principles of Research” rather than “Principles of Theoretical Physics”, which your source gives it as. Actually there is one also in the same book only a few pages back from this one bearing that title, which was essentially Einstein’s thank you speech for being instated as a member of the Prussian Academy of Science.

The thing that’s relevant in all this for me is it indicates the debate over how science should be done and by whom it should be executed is a long standing one. I was speaking to Bee earlier that theoretical physics has of late in part lost an arbitrator of such things and it seems even in Einstein’s times he felt the beginnings of this and was thus though forced to appeal to angels;-)

Best,

Phil