Scientific Discovery Games and the organization of science in our societies

It would be possible to classify societies based on how they organize science. I would posit that the more advanced a society becomes, the better it becomes at utilizing the entire social organization in discovering new truths and doing science. A society in which there is no citizen science is a much less developed one than the ones in which citizens co-publish with experts in peer-reviewed journals.

A citizen-scientific society needs to resolve a lot of institutional conundrums. It needs to adopt a view of scientific knowledge that allows wide-spread sharing of that knowledge (addressing the issue of academic copyrights), it needs networks and resources to ensure that everyone gets the basic education needed to participate. It also needs to resolve its relationship to knowledge in general. We have, to be honest, had a complicated relationship with knowledge in our society. Think about Prometheus, the Apple, Faust and others – the suggestion that knowledge may bring more evil than good is not universally frowned upon.

One of the ways we may organize is around games. In this really interesting talk Adrien Treuille shows a couple of very interesting examples of exactly how games can helps science.

There are a couple of things I really like about this talk. The first is that instead of talking about crowd-sourcing, mr Treuille suggests that we talk about crowd-solving. Crowds can solve difficult problems together, and then he notes something that I think is even more important. He says, in effect, that a society that has collaborated on solving a problem is more likely to implement the solutions as they are used to change the world. The ownership that comes from being included in the problem solving process creates the network of influentials needed to actually also use the solution to change the world. Both are fundamental insights.

An overview of how our organization of science is changing with many fascinating examples is found in the eminent book Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science by Michael Nielsen.

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