This week I was involved in a discussion about the future of science, we used a blog post by Michael Nielsen as a basis for our discussions.  Here are some of the major points that he raises:

  • Scientific publishing has essentially remained the same since the 17th century
  • Open source publishing should be a requirement: publicly paid for science should be available to the public for free (this is an issue that has been raised before on this blog)
  • The uptake of open source publishing and open comment systems has been slow
  • The culture of science needs to change in this respect
  • The current model only rewards efforts towards more publications in the top journals, thus it is difficult to break the status quo
  • Scientists have been reluctant to contribute to things like Wikipedia, open thread comments, blogs etc essentially because they don’t get any credit or recognition for it
  • Science has been very slow to take up recent advances in social networking capabilities
  • A revolution in scientific networking and collaboration is possible
  • Successes include the polymath project
  • Combined collaborator effort is very powerful, an interesting example is the Kasparov vs the world chess match
  • There is enormous room for improved efficiency in how science is done
  • Sharing data and model code should be required – a move towards extreme openness is advocated
  • A role model is the development of open source software such as like Linux

Here is a TED talk where he describes some of his ideas:

For those interested further Michael Nielsen has written a recent book on the subject, entitled Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science.

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The way things are typically taught at University is at odds with what we know about how we learn.  Here is a fascinating interview with Alison Gopnik in Macleans magazine.  Here are some choice quotes:

“The traditional way of thinking about learning at a university is … not a model that anybody’s ever found any independent evidence for.”

“[in traditional university education] There’s not exploratory learning, there’s not guided apprenticeship.”

“…it’s sort of ironic, [students at elite universities are] over-prepared, … Because there’s insane pressure on high school students to achieve and get into college, by the time they get here they’ve already got a mindset: “All right, it’s absolutely imperative that I get an A+ on every single test and I need to know what I have to do to achieve that.” But what we want in students is creativity and a willingness to fail. I always say to students, “If you’ve never at some point stayed up all night talking to your new boyfriend about the meaning of life instead of preparing for the test, then you’re not really an intellectual.”

“The issue … is we’re selecting a group that has gone through so much pressure to get to university that they don’t have that wide-ranging curiosity that’s a really important part of having an intellectual life.”

Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. Her research field is in children’s learning and development, her most recent book is The Philosophical Baby: What children’s minds tell us about love, truth and the meaning of life.  Here she is speaking about her work at a TED conference: