Science mob pace quickens
August 17th, 2010

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The power of open science within the internet is described by an article in today’s New York Science Times. Although the topic of the article is a possible breakthrough in solving a mathematical problem, what is revealed about the future of science is a much bigger idea. Here is the flavor:

In this case, however, the significant breakthrough may not be in the science, but rather in the way science is practiced. By the middle of last week, although Dr. Deolalikar had not backed away from his claim, a consensus had emerged among complexity theorists that the proposed proof had several significant shortcomings.

“At this point the consensus is that there are large holes in the alleged proof — in fact, large enough that people do not consider the alleged proof to be a proof,” Dr. Vardi said. “I think Deolalikar got his 15 minutes of fame, but at this point the excitement has subsided and the skepticism is turning into negative conviction.”

What was highly significant, however, was the pace of discussion and analysis, carried out in real time on blogs and a wiki that had been quickly set up for the purpose of collectively analyzing the paper. This kind of collaboration has emerged only in recent years in the math and computer science communities. In the past, intense discussions like the one that surrounded the proof of the Poincaré conjecture were carried about via private e-mail and distribution lists as well as in the pages of traditional paper-based science journals. . . .


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