Sterling on Independent Research

Bruce Sterling's "Visionary in Residence : Stories" include an intriguing novel called Ivory Tower, which has already been published in Nature in April 2005 for a special issue about "What does the next half-century have in store?".

It addresses a topic I am very interested in: independent research. Some quotes:

We were ten thousands physicists entirely self-educated by Internet (...) In the new world of open access, ultrawide broadband, and gigantic storage bank, physics is just sort of sitting there (...) we demanded state support to publish for our research efforts (just like real scientists do), but alas, the bureaucrats wouldn't give us the time of the day.

So to find time for our kind of science, we had to dump a few shibboleths. For instance, we never bother to "publish" - we just post our findings on weblogs, and if that gets a lot of links, hey, we're the Most Frequently Cited. Tenure? Who needs that? Never heard of it! Doctorates, degrees, defending a thesis? Don't know, don't need 'em, can't even be bothered. (...) You're one in a million, pal - but in a world of ten billion people, there's ten thousand of us. We immediately started swapping everything we knew on collaborative weblogs. (...) we established our Autodidacts' Academy... we also had unlimited processing power, bandwidth, search engines, social software and open-source everything.

Why do I blog this? This is not the current situation but the tools Sterling describes (which we already have) reshape the research practices. Researchers begin to use blogs, tagging (conotea), wiki; benefits from bandwidth + large processing power. The weblog ranking system is very close to the peer-review process (less formal, more emergent and messy). What we currently lack is the critical mass. I am not sure whether the blog or another platform might be a relevant format for publishing research but there is something interesting here.

BESIDES, some people are working in that direction. Olivier reports that this paper (which form is really far from the old-school scientific paper format because of its open-source-ness maybe) features for instance a reference to a blogpost. Is blogging good for the career? also asks Alex Pang