Complete documentation of how a research problem is solved

Via Abi, I learn that the massively collaborative math project that I wrote about a while ago has reached successful conclusion:

… the mathematical result of the project has far exceeded what I thought would be possible in a mere six weeks. I deliberately set a rather modest aim: to explore just one approach to DHJ(3). In retrospect, this seems not to have been the right decision, though it may have been quite good as a starting point, since in the end we moved off into other directions that were more fruitful (not that I completely rule out a proof along the lines first envisaged, especially given some of the tools that we have now developed). Anyhow, these initial restrictions were quietly abandoned, and it looks as though we have proved a stronger result than seemed remotely feasible then. (More precisely, if we had managed to get my initial suggestion to work, it would probably have been unpleasant, though not impossible, to generalize.)

Tim Gowers, the author of the post, goes on to discuss the pluses and minuses of the experience, during which, he has this interesting point to make:

… as several people have commented, it has provided, for possibly the first time ever (though I may well be wrong about this), the first fully documented account of how a serious research problem was solved, complete with false starts, dead ends etc.

Obviously, some areas are more amenable to such documentation than others! In any case, the comments on the post go on to discuss ways in which the experiment can be scaled and repeated — all of which I find very interesting! Take a look!


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