From this blog, it is starting to seem that I am a big fan of Michael Nielsen. A few months ago I praised Nielsen’s article about how to perform effective research. In this post I highly recommend his book “Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science”. What can I say – I think that Nielsen is a brillian writer.
So what is this book about? In one sentence – it explores how the process of doing scientific research is changing due to the internet, and asks what else can be done to improve future research. If you are a mathematician, then you are probably familiar with several related topics such as the polymath project (which is maintained by Nielsen), arXiv, open access journals, etc.
While personally I am very interested in these topics and enjoy Nielsen’s ideas, from my brief description of the book it might sound as if non-scientists would not find any interest in it, neither would the many scientists who are not looking for academic discussions about the future of open access, etc. This is definitely not the case – I think that this book would be quite interesting to anyone who is somewhat interested in modern science, and I am already planning to get copies to a couple of non-scientist friends. The stories about new ways of doing science via the web are surprisingly fascinating. You learn about how a 25-year old schoolteacher without any related experience discovered a completely new type of astronomical object (now called quasar ionization echo), how the CDC uses Google to spot flu outbreaks, how computer gamers help to understand the structure of proteins, and various other new developments in how science is being done. I was not familiar with most of these stories and developments, and learned quite a bit about what is happening in other scientific fields.
If you are a mathematician (if not, then how did you get here?), while reading this book you might start to think about how the way that you write and publish papers is changing, how collaborations are changing, and where would the community go next.
The book also discusses the phenomenon of technical scientific blogging, and is unfortunately not very optimistic about it (although the reason is the opposite of the one that I was imagining). Oh well… stop reading this and go read the book!