the internet has changed science drastically. Not only in terms of distributing knowledge e.g. via online encyclopedias as wikipedia and freely available sources of publications as arXiv but also as a tool for communication through email and lively discussions in forums, newsgroups and communities like StackExchange.

Scientific success nowadays greatly depends on the ability to build up teams with different scientific background and experience. To my mind, the ideal researcher has to seek for people helping him to tackle parts of his problems in which he is not an expert instead of spending months on something, someone else could have been done in days.

So, can't we be this ideal researcher, or: Can a community on a webpage do research by openly presenting ideas and working them out? Or is this not possible due to "stealing" of ideas, lacking institutional structures and the like?

What do you think?



closed as primarily opinion-based by David Z Jul 17 '14 at 17:59

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ This MO question addresses the basic issues about collaboration. $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 3 '10 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Robert: You probably need a clearly defined problems and some easier subtasks to start with, otherwise, there is a main person to solve problem and the other just offer 'little' help in which it should not be a community work. I would also be interested on how experiments can be tackled in days. $\endgroup$ – unsym Dec 4 '10 at 2:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Marek: Thank you for the link. Of course, sharing ideas in, say, business science can be a lot like politics. You can fiend inspiring collaborations or see your idea published by someone the next days. What is the case for "community research"? Isn't it much more safe since it is clear who formulated an idea first? @hwlau: I agree, one might not be able to tackle all kinds of problems in this setup in the first place. Do you think this would be possible, after such a community has formed somehow? $\endgroup$ – Robert Filter Dec 4 '10 at 7:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Sklivvz: no, this question is not about the site physics.SE but about physics. Well, about researches actually, but nonetheless I think this question belongs here $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Dec 6 '10 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, one of the most notable example I know: HoTT book. But it is underpopular now, as it should be. $\endgroup$ – m0nhawk Jul 17 '14 at 17:59

It's possible: see for instance the success of the various polymath projects http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polymath_project#Polymath_Project

  • $\begingroup$ We have tried doing "Polystats" on CrossValidated.com, but it was a failure. $\endgroup$ – user68 Dec 3 '10 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ @mbq: Would you try to start a Polyphysics here :) $\endgroup$ – unsym Dec 4 '10 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Anthony Leverrier: Thanks for the info! Something like this is exactly what I meant. @hwlau: And this is exactly the question I am concerned. $\endgroup$ – Robert Filter Dec 4 '10 at 7:05
  • $\begingroup$ @hwlau Well, to investigate what? Yet I think that there is an epsilon probability that something like Mpemba effect could rise from a site like this. $\endgroup$ – user68 Dec 4 '10 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ @mbq: I have no idea yet. The Mpemba effect you cited might be a fair one because everyone can do the experiments. It is harder for theoretical physics because it is difficult to gather a group of people with similar background for a topic. Currently, the community here is small and it may be a time to collect some topics. BTW: what is the reason that the "Polystats" fail? $\endgroup$ – unsym Dec 5 '10 at 5:41

Not quite an answer but in the same vein:

Many nuclear and high energy collaboration write papers in the name of the collaboration (and for that matter coordinate mostly over the intertubes). That is you'll see a paper by "the KamLAND collaboration". A list of the participants broken out by time can generally then be found in the collaboration's web space. This prevents the need for multiple page author lists.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the information. The point is if "the KamLand collaboration" is a community project which might not be the case. Judging from the kamland.lbl.gov website it looks more like a professional one hosted by Berkeley. $\endgroup$ – Robert Filter Dec 4 '10 at 7:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Robert: This would be why this is "not quite an answer", but my point is that group authorship is an accepted notion at least on the experimental side of particle physics. As for KamLAND, it is a professional organization (or at least an organization of professionals), and derives it funding from the US and Japanese governments. If you wanted to assign it a "center" the best choice would probably be Tohoku University (UCB and LBNL are the largest part of the US contribution). $\endgroup$ – dmckee Dec 4 '10 at 17:32

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