Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cosmic collaboration

This month's issue of Nature Physics contains an interesting article about astronomy's move from the realm of individual efforts to the collective findings of large teams of scientists. While the article is cautionary in tone and recommends that astronomer's reground themselves in the nuances of experimental astronomy, I did find some interesting comments that can compliment my previous post on collaborative research.

For one, the article criticizes a recent trend in astronomy papers whereby authors neglect error bars or even the data upon which their conclusions are drawn. The reason for this, as I understood the article, is that the scientists are largely unfamiliar with how the data was collected or what can contribute to the error in general. This can be one risk of collaborative research projects in general. Eventually, material will arise from a party which has no direct interest in the paper being written and as a result this material will slip by the critical eye of the authors.

Another issue I see is that, according to the article, students and post-docs have become mere data slaves. I think that collaborative efforts can in some way reduce scientists to a tool for performing the mechanical tasks that belong to their field of specialization. I think that this dehumanization of the role of a scientist can squelch creativity and ruin the spirit of scientific pursuits.

The article I am referring to can be found here.