"Distributed data analysis"? Potentially.
August 3rd, 2009 by analyticjournalism

FYI from O'Reilly Radar

And does this suggest possibility of something like “distributed data analysis” whereby a number of widely scattered watchdogs could be poking into the same data set?  If so, raises interesting questions for journalism educators: who is developing the tools to manage such investigations?

Enabling Massively Parallel Mathematics Collaboration — Jon Udell writes about Mike Adams whose WordPress plugin to grok LaTeX formatting of math has enabled a new scale of mathematics collaboration.


In February 2007, Mike Adams, who had recently joined Automattic, the company that makes WordPress, decided on a lark to endow all blogs running on with the ability to use LaTeX, the venerable mathematical typesetting language. So I can write this:

$latex \pi r^2$

And produce this:

\pi r^2

When he introduced the feature, Mike wrote:

Odd as it may sound, I miss all the equations from my days in grad school, so I decided that what needed most was a hot, niche feature that maybe 17 people would use regularly.

A whole lot more than 17 people cared. And some of them, it turns out, are Fields medalists. Back in January, one member of that elite group — Tim Gowers — asked: Is massively collaborative mathematics possible? Since then, as reported by observer/participant Michael Nielsen (1, 2), Tim Gowers, Terence Tao, and a bunch of their peers have been pioneering a massively collaborative approach to solving hard mathematical problems.

Reflecting on the outcome of the first polymath experiment, Michael Nielsen wrote:

The scope of participation in the project is remarkable. More than 1000 mathematical comments have been written on Gowers’ blog, and the blog of Terry Tao, another mathematician who has taken a leading role in the project. The Polymath wiki has approximately 59 content pages, with 11 registered contributors, and more anonymous contributors. It’s already a remarkable resource on the density Hales-Jewett theorem and related topics. The project timeline shows notable mathematical contributions being made by 23 contributors to date. This was accomplished in seven weeks.

Just this week, a polymath blog has emerged to serve as an online home for the further evolution of this approach.


One Response  
  • Nelson writes:
    October 14th, 20153:26 pmat

    Thanks for an informative arltcie, Michael. I agree that developing collaboration relationships is very important for grad students these days. However I think that “equal credit” collaborations are often at least as frustrating and damaging to relationships between researchers as potential awkwardness involved in discussing the relative contributions. In my experience in papers with 3 or more co-authors issues with one or more of the co-authors “having other priorities” are very common … especially when it comes to the mundane and time consuming tasks like writing up/proof-reading/revising. In general I think that the disconnect between the credit and the effort becomes more and more problematic as the average number of collaborators per paper grows in TCS.In addition, the absence of any explicit information about relative contributions adds a lot of uncertainty in selection decisions (e.g. for hiring or an award). It is very common in recent years to see a PhD graduate in theory with mostly 3+ authored publications and without a single single-authothed one. It is true that insider information is often available (e.g. from recommendation letters or who got to present the result) but such information is often quite incomplete and not necessarily fully reliable. In my opinion, ordering of names is really not an adequate way to deal with this problem. It is too crude for a such delicate matters. On the other hand including an explicit summary of authors’ contributions in works with 3+ authors would certainly do much more good than harm to collaboration practices and overall transparency in our area. If the collaborators decide that they do not feel like they want to discuss their contributions they can always state something in the spirit of “contributed equally”. So I see no real downsides or valid excuse not to follow the practice.I believe that the appropriate way to introduce this practice is by requiring such a summary to be included in STOC/FOCS submissions. This is a standard practice for premier science journals like Science and Nature where multi author contributions are more common.-VG

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