Reinventing Discovery

The New Era of Networked Science

1-17-2012 9-40-39 AM

In Reinventing Discovery, Michael Nielsen argues that we are living at the dawn of the most dramatic change in science in more than 300 years. This change is being driven by powerful new cognitive tools, enabled by the internet, which are greatly accelerating scientific discovery. There are many books about how the internet is changing business or the workplace or government. But this is the first book about something much more fundamental: how the internet is transforming the nature of our collective intelligence and how we understand the world.

Reinventing Discovery tells the exciting story of an unprecedented new era of networked science. We learn, for example, how mathematicians in the Polymath Project are spontaneously coming together to collaborate online, tackling and rapidly demolishing previously unsolved problems. We learn how 250,000 amateur astronomers are working together in a project called Galaxy Zoo to understand the large-scale structure of the Universe, and how they are making astonishing discoveries, including an entirely new kind of galaxy. These efforts are just a small part of the larger story told in this book–the story of how scientists are using the internet to dramatically expand our problem-solving ability and increase our combined brainpower.

This is a book for anyone who wants to understand how the online world is revolutionizing scientific discovery today–and why the revolution is just beginning.

Michael Nielsen is one of the pioneers of quantum computing. He is an essayist, speaker, and advocate of open science.


“[A] thought-provoking call to arms. . . . Reinventing Discovery will frame serious discussion and inspire wild, disruptive ideas for the next decade.”–Chris Lintott, Nature

“Presenting complex ideas clearly, Nielson explores in his first book how online collaborative tools, networked science, and open data policies are revolutionizing the process of discovery. He presents a clear vision of science’s future and challenges us to bring it to fruition… Both captivating and enlightening, this book is recommended for general readers or specialists interested in how online collaboration tools, open data policies, and networked science might benefit the future of science and humanity.”–Jonathan Bodnar, Library Journal

“In writing this book, Nielsen has created perhaps the most compelling and comprehensive case so far for a new approach to science in the Internet age . . . eloquent, thought-provoking and inspiring to read.”–Timo Hannay, Nature Physics

Reinventing Discovery is a survey, an analysis, a how-to, and a harbinger of greater things to come. Kudos to the author for picking a timely and relevant subject perhaps just on the edge of social consciousness and making a great story out of it.”–Robert Schaefer, New York Journal of Books

“[Reinventing Discovery] opens with a fantastic account of what we can learn about the future of science from explorations such as the Polymath Project and ‘the greatest chess game in history,’ Kasparov vs. the World. But what really distinguishes it is its nuanced, intelligent descriptions of just how these projects work, noticing what is important about them in a way that few popular summaries do. . . . Highly recommended!”–Tim O’Reilly, Founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media

“In Reinventing Discovery [Nielsen] has provided the most compelling manifesto yet for the transformative power of networked science.”–James Wilsdon, Financial Times


Table of Contents

Chapter 1:Reinventing Discovery 1

Chapter 2: Online Tools Make Us Smarter 15
Chapter 3: Restructuring Expert Attention 22
Chapter 4: Patterns of Online Collaboration 44
Chapter 5: The Limits and the Potential of Collective Intelligence 69

Chapter 6: All the World’s Knowledge 91
Chapter 7: Democratizing Science 129
Chapter 8: The Challenge of Doing Science in the Open 172
Chapter 9: The Open Science Imperative 187

Appendix: The Problem Solved by the Polymath Project 209
Acknowledgments 215
Selected Sources and Suggestions for Further Reading 217
Notes 221
References 239
Index 255

Princeton University Press


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