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The New Era of Networked Science
Writers such as Nicholas Carr insisting that Internet is making us dumber. But that's like looking at teenage drivers and saying cars are just good for having crashes. Online we're all still learner drivers, so it's not surprising that sometimes we just use the Internet to amplify our stupidity.
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It's telling that the best tools we have for collective sharing - wikis, blogs and forums - were invented, not by experts in intelligence or learning, but by amateurs. So shouldn't take too much notice of academic studies on collective intelligence; instead should look at what is actually happening online.
InnoCentive is an online marketplace for scientific problems. An org can post "challenge" and offer prizes for solutions. For example, a charity working in India offered a $20,000 prize (put up by a donor) for a reliable, solar powered wireless router that used low cost readily available hardware and software. As is typical, the contest won by an amateur expert in both fields of solar power and computers, who would otherwise have never have connected with the people who needed the solution.
We we try to solve a hard creative problem on our own, most of our ideas go nowhere. But in a good collaboration, some of our dead-end ideas stimulate others to come up with daughter ideas. These in turn stimulate others. The more people you have and the more diverse the pool, more likely.
In a conventional organization collaboration is static, within departments or fixed groups, and invariably with hierarchies. And very difficult to scale up - if want large numbers to take part have to split into subgroups and give each a part of the problem.
Don Swanson is a retired information scientist who has no medical training, never had a lab and does no experiments. But he has made several impt medical discoveries. He realized that scientific knowledge had grown so vast that important connections between subjects were going unnoticed because no-one had an overview. He used a medical search engine called Medline to look for links between migraines and other conditions, and found two unsuspected links. Migraines are associated with epilepsy, and it is associated with a higher incidence of blood clots. Then he found that magnesium deficiency incr epilepsy and allows blood to clot more easily. This wasn't a cure for migraines, but trials confirmed that Mg involved, and is a step toward understanding.
Clay Shirky coined phrase "cognitive surplus" - what we do with our disposable time - sit on couch and watch TV or something like Galaxy Zoo. GZ has 200,000 Zookeepers who wade through the huge collection of satellite photos of distant galaxies, classifying them and looking for anomalies.
Big problem with scientific papers is that most published ones are behind a subscription paywall. Other scientists can read them, but not general public. So site such as arXiv which has hundreds of thousands of preprints - the preliminary manuscripts before refereed or published in journals. Has sped up transfer of ideas among scientists, and made most of modern knowledge accessible to all.
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