Good conversations with insightful colleagues, expert attention and all that

I found this nice blog of Michael Nielsen thanks to a pointer from MR. One of the pieces of Nielsen that I am reading and enjoying lot is the one about doing science online. Nielsen talks in the piece about the necessity of discussions with insightful colleagues:

As all of us know, when you’re working on a problem, a good conversation with an insightful colleague may be worth as much (and sometimes more) than reading the classic papers.

Nielsen also has some interesting things to say about how internet is and can influence the way science is done:

I’ve started this talk by discussing blogs because they are familiar to most people. But ideas about doing science in the open, online, have been developed far more systematically by people who are explicitly doing open notebook science. People such as Garrett Lisi are using mathematical wikis to develop their thinking online; Garrett has referred to the site as “my brain online”. People such as chemists Jean-Claude Bradley and Cameron Neylon are doing experiments in the open, immediately posting their results for all to see. They’re developing ideas like lab equipment that posts data in real time, posting data in formats that are machine-readable, enabling data mining, automated inference, and other additional services.

Stepping back, what tools like blogs, open notebooks and their descendants enable is filtered access to new sources of information, and to new conversation. The net result is a restructuring of expert attention. This is important because expert attention is the ultimate scarce resource in scientific research, and the more efficiently it can be allocated, the faster science can progress.

How many times have you been obstructed in your research by the need to prove or disprove a small result that is a little outside your core expertise, and so would take you days or weeks, but which you know, of a certainty, the right person could resolve in minutes, if only you knew who that person was, and could easily get their attention. This may sound like a fantasy, but if you’ve worked on the right open source software projects, you’ll know that this is exactly what happens in those projects – discussion forums for open source projects often have a constant flow of messages posing what seem like tough problems; quite commonly, someone with a great comparative advantage quickly posts a clever way to solve the problem.

If new online tools offer us the opportunity to restructure expert attention, then how exactly might it be restructured? One of the things we’ve learnt from economics is that markets can be remarkably effective ways of efficiently allocating scarce resources. I’ll talk now about an interesting market in expert attention that has been set up by a company named InnoCentive.

There is much, much more in the piece. Take a look!

One Response to “Good conversations with insightful colleagues, expert attention and all that”

  1. Srinivasan Pillay: Unshackled from Guilt: The Importance of Self-Forgiveness | Says:

    […] Good conversations with insightful colleagues, expert attention … […]

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