Reinventing Discovery

Reinventing Discovery (2011) by Michael Nielsen is a book that looks at how the Internet and advances in computing technology is changing and will change the way that science is done.

Nielsen starts by looking at the Polymath Project, a blog set up by Tim Gowers, a Fields Medalist, where math problems have been solved at amazing speed. He goes on to mention the Galaxy Zoo and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey where amateurs can do valuable work in identifying galaxies and can do it with remarkable speed and quality. Nielsen makes the point that similar to the way in which Open Source has transformed software Open Science can improve science.

The book looks at various examples of how the Internet has enabled people to collaborate and create in ways that were not previously possible. ASSET, the open source movement and Linux and Wikipedia have all been highly successful.

Nielsen looks at how the publish or perish mentality of science works against open collaboration and how this can be overcome. He also looks at the rise of free access publications like ArXiv and PLoS have arisen and how they are changing academic publishing.

The book unwisely looks at Climate Science and how according to Nielsen this shows the limits of open access to science. He states that the quotes from the Climategate are all being taken out of context. He would have done far better to either avoid the subject entirely or to look at the way the blog Climate Audit studied climate reconstructions in the open and the transparent way in which climate model output has generally been made available.

The book is thought-provoking, well written and interesting. Nielsen goes over his themes carefully and with deep knowledge of them. It’s fun to read and informative.

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