Seb's Open Research
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Tuesday, October 15, 2002
Should you trust your collaborators?

NY Times: On Scientific Fakery and the Systems to Catch It (via Universal Rule)

In some ways, the pivotal figure in the research misconduct case at Bell Labs was not Dr. J. Hendrik Schön, the scientist fired last month for fabricating and manipulating data, but Dr. Bertram Batlogg, the man who hired him in 1998.

An investigatory panel cleared Dr. Batlogg, and all other co-authors, of knowledge of the deception. But without Dr. Batlogg's imprimatur, the remarkable findings in superconductivity and organic electronics, now discredited, would have been scrutinized more skeptically sooner.

[...] There is also a nagging worry that many other cases of scientific dishonesty are not caught and that someone less ambitious in scope Dr. Schön's claims were groundbreaking, and, if true, Nobel Prize-worthy may achieve a quietly successful career. One in four respondents to a poll in 1991 by the journal Science said they had personally encountered fabrication, falsification or theft of research in the prior 10 years.

I don't know about you, but I find this one in four number astonishing. This is science, not Las Vegas! Here are one scientist's thoughts on trusting collaborators:

"You have to trust your collaborators or you're not a collaborator. On the other hand, collaborations occur when you sit and argue over the data. Every collaborator has a responsibility that they're comfortable with what's said in the papers."

See also my earlier post, Publish and perish.

What do you think? []  links to this post    4:40:05 PM  
Why do we love puzzles?

Here are a few quotes from a recent review of "The Puzzle Instinct" by Marcel Danesi.

Danesi's most repeated theme song along these lines draws on the observation of British mystery writer P.D. James that all mystery stories and puzzles ultimately serve our desire for the "restoration of order." We love solving puzzles, he suggests, because unlike the big questions of life, they're solvable.

Puzzles, Danesi maintains, provide "comic relief" from "the angst earned by the unanswerable larger questions... . Since there are no definitive answers to the large-scale questions, we are strangely reassured by the answers built into the small-scale ones."

Certainty has a definite power of attraction. But there's also a thrill (I'd even venture to say joy) in finding yourself in a questioning state of mind when you're thinking about the problem. Induced curiosity is why we also enjoy watching stories unfold, regardless of whether they end with a definite answer or a question mark. (By the way, here's a gratuitous link to an interesting page about movies of the question mark type.)


Might puzzles distract people from real-world problems, providing, like spectator sports, an easy escape from life's important matters? Might they encourage intellectual solipsism, ingenuity for the sake of ingenuity, emotional distance from other people, an excessive desire to control? Those issues never come under discussion.

That's an interesting question, but one that can be asked about any hobby, and many intellectual endeavors as well. The puzzles I like most have a more or less direct relationship to real-world problems. But purely artificial puzzles, it seems to me, are useful as well because they make you develop strategies and ways of thinking that can sometimes come in handy in "life's important matters".

Of course, if you spent your entire life solving artificial puzzles, you wouldn't get a chance to put any of this wisdom to practical use. Still, if you published your solutions, the ideas might eventually be applied to real-world problems by someone else. Just look at what mathematics has done for us lately. It seems very hard to demonstrate that a given idea will never find any use in the real world.

What do you think? []  links to this post    4:03:45 PM  

Charles W. Bailey Jr. has released Version 45 of his Scholarly Electronic Publishing Bibliography. The new edition cites over 1,700 books, articles, and other resources, both online and in print. [FOS News]
What do you think? []  links to this post    10:46:04 AM  

Nonaka and technology. Last week, I ended a blog entry with the question, "Do current collaboration tools effectively facilitate Nonaka's four patterns of knowledge creation?" I then came across A. D. Marwick's article, "Knowledge management technology", which goes into considerable depth in answering my question.

Marwick covers several technologies and does well to explain that each technology is only a component of a knowledge management solution:

The individual technologies are not in themselves knowledge management solutions. Instead, when brought to market they are typically embedded in a smaller number of solutions packages, each of which is designed to be adaptable to solve a range of business problems. Examples are portals, collaboration software, and distance learning software. Each of these can and does include several different technologies.

[Kumquat's Musings]

The article looks pretty good and seems to have a quite broad perspective. I'll try to find time to read it.

What do you think? []  links to this post    10:39:09 AM features a blog on reputation systems. [Smart Mobs]

Very interesting. I like to make my own mind about people, but selecting who to look at in the first place can benefit from outside help. So many people out there... so reputation systems can come in handy. But it would be a mistake to put too much faith in them. Ultimately, you have to trust yourself. Never forget that.

What do you think? []  links to this post    10:33:44 AM  
At last...

Is There a God?. This article presents a philosophical framework for discussing the nature and existence of God. [...] The attached poll will decide, once and for all, the nature and existence of God. Join the ultimate debate now! []

What do you think? []  links to this post    10:26:49 AM  

Comparing weblog software. I have just come across a very handy weblog comparison site. It works like this: you pick up to five different packages to compare, and it builds you a table of features, showing which package does what. Very, very handy.... [Column Two via thomas n. burg | randgänge]
What do you think? []  links to this post    10:25:26 AM  
Brain hierarchies

A picture named qtips.gifSo, is your brain really hierarchic? I think it is. Here's the informal demo.  [Scripting News]

What do you think? []  links to this post    10:17:01 AM  
Thinking more efficiently

Thinking about thinking. That's the difference between outliner users and everyone else. They think about thinking. They're aware of their own process. Only people who think about thinking get to a place where they can invest in being more efficient in their thinking. Maybe "only" is too strong a word. Some people say they don't think in outlines. Yeah yeah. But hanging information on a hierarchy makes it easy to forget it and focus on new ideas and relationships. It's a good way to relax intellectually. ";->" [Scripting News]

Now I haven't yet been able to find a clear account of what outlining really boils down to, but this post draws a few connections to my mind about important ideas that got popular in programming contexts but are really more about thinking than about programming.

  • Encapsulation, where you combine separate elements into a whole, often greatly simplifies thinking by relieving you from the burden of thinking about the details. Thinking about complex things, like human collectivities, is virtually impossible without encapsulation. Of course in encapsulating you must be careful not to hide important stuff inside the capsule.
  • Inheritance is a way of compressing knowledge. If I tell you "a weblog is a kind of website" and you already know what websites are, then I've given you a lot of knowledge in very few words, because you've just learned that everything you know about websites also applies to weblogs.

Dave's comments on relaxing intellectually really ring true to me. I often strive to make myself comfortable in my thinking, to simplify my view of things as much as possible, until thinking becomes almost frictionless. Sometimes I forget to do that, though, and the going gets tough (unless I'm performing some kind of mental routine, in which case I'm not really thinking at all).

What do you think? []  links to this post    10:10:08 AM  
Knowledge flow: the water metaphor

Knowledge Flow describes how knowledge behaves in a company. The best analogy is that of water. Like water, knowledge is not static. It flows about a company from person to person, carrying thoughts and ideas to new places. It seeks out cracks and flows through into new territory. Sometimes a flow gets trapped and goes nowhere resulting in stagnation and other times it creates a standing wave and ideas build into something never before seen.

During a Knowledge Game session I saw a powerful example of this. The group of seven participants formed their chairs into a small circle no more than 2 metres across and began a dialogue on the nature of knowledge. As an observer and using the analogy of water I saw a small but deep pool into which ideas were pouring and then sloshing around. Ideas were tangible as they flowed across from person to person, or rippled around the edges until somebody latched onto one and gave it the energy needed to become a wave, at which point it could cross the container by itself.

For me, I now have a powerful image with which to understand flow. More reading on knowledge flow can be found in a previous posting on The Experience of the Soul.


I'm particularly fond of the standing wave idea. When the groove comes among a group of people, you can practically see them "tune into the same frequency" and act much more intensely, both as individuals and as a group. It's an exciting moment whenever it happens.

What do you think? []  links to this post    9:31:57 AM  
Bias in the Blogosphere

Robert Corr has written a pretty interesting essay, Bias in the Blogosphere, for his class on Media and Politics. The essay's chock full of links, and does a good job of pulling together debated issues in blogging and ideas about blogging. His references are a treat: he'll link the groovyest words in a citation to the source (most are online, some are from books and for them he links to the amazon book page), and he's put the correctly formatted academic reference in the title tag for each link, so you see it if you hover your mouse over the link. There are a lot of good links, and it's elegantly and bloggishly done. I'd have liked an old-fashioned bibliography as well. And I don't agree with his conclusions, but hey, that's OK. [Jill/txt]

I don't agree either. For me the point in blogging is not to maximize your immediate readership, but rather to engage in conversation with thinking people who you can learn from. Of course there are mainstream themes and ideas which are given more space by the mass of bloggers. But what matters is that it doesn't prevent anyone from creating smaller, quiet and cozy spaces to discuss non-mainstream topics. Topics like the evolution of knowledge sharing.

After reading this piece, I feel even less compelled to spend time visiting the politically-oriented corner of blogspace. I have a sense that people are talking past one another more often than not. But perhaps I'm prejudiced.

What do you think? []  links to this post    9:21:24 AM  

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