From Polymath to group working – a short lesson in modern science

A Polymath is a single researcher from the renaissance period. He worked outside of groups. Since 200 years, Polymath education is obsolete. That means science is equal with group working. That might be a surprising, because the assumption is, that researchers are not in team play, but the opposite is the case. 100% of all papers at Google scholar are the result of team. In the author field at least 3 names are given, sometimes more. Even phd thesis are the result of group working. That was not always the case. If we are going back to Renaissance, group working was the exception.

But why has the situation changed? A common myth is, that science become so complex that a single person is no longer able to handle all that knowledge. But if a single person is not familiar with Artificial Intelligence, how should become the group invent something important? Right, that is not the real explanation. The correct answer is that group working increases the public attraction. That means, if a group wants to publish a paper and request for money they will be successful. If a single person is trying to publish something he fails. Another advantage of team work is, that the group can make an arrangement before they are going public. That means, they are discussing the theory first internally and only if the group is sure, they are going life and inform the public. This second layer increases the quality of academic work, because the public can trust the scientific community. It is a sign of professionalism if a dedicated peer-review takes place. And only if the peer-review was successful, the public gets informed.

Peer-review makes no sense for a single researcher. A single researcher is according to the definition not in a position to peer-review his own work. Without a group, the quality is lower and this is equal to unscientific work. Team work is mandatory for modern researchers. They doesn’t have to decide, they are forced to work as team players. If somebody leaves a group and doesn’t find a new group, he is no longer a researcher. He can’t publish no more his ideas, he is no longer allowed to speak for the community. Instead he can call himself a retired researcher.

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How important is group working in Academia?

Suppose somebody has written a paper, and has formatted the layout. The only question is now how to publish the paper. The answer is: is it not possible. Even if the paper is great nobody will allow him to publish the paper. Why?

The answer has to do how Academia works. The first surprising fact is, that the quality of a paper is not important. That means, an academic paper which is great wouldn’t be published, while a paper which is boring will get published. The reason why has to do with group work. Here is the work hypothesis how Academic publishing works in reality.

If somebody was involved in group work he get’s published. No matter if he has a formal Phd title or not. But if someone has written a paper alone, he won’t get published, even he has a formal phd title. The content of the paper takes no matter.

Let us take a deeper look into papers who are get published in the official Google Scholar directory. The common feature is, that all of them were written by an author collective. At least by two authors, but most paper are written by 3-5 authors. What does that mean? Is group working similar to a better quality? No it is not. Many papers on Google Scholar have a low quality and are not reproducible. Group working means only, that more than one person has contributed content and that the topic was discussed before a publication.

The shared feature of all papers on Google Scholar is, that at least one team member in the author list is an official professor at a university. And he has connections to the publisher. That is the way how Academia works. Let us construct some examples on that hypothesis to evaluate if it is valid or not.

Suppose, a single researcher have written in the last 10 years a really good paper. He has invested a lot of energy and from a content perspective the paper is great. That means, it contains valuable information, brings science forward and is written in an easy to understand language. The funny information is, that this paper will never get published. At least not by an Academic publishers. If the person submits the pdf file to Elsevier or PLOS it will get rejected because the author list contains only a single person. That means, the paper was not discussed with anybody and this is the rejection criteria.

Now let us construct the opposite case. A professor in small university writes together with 2 assistants a paper. The quality of the paper is bad. That means, the team has no idea about the subject. Only the professor has an official title, his two assistants didn’t even have a phd title. This paper will get published, because it is the result of a group work.

Let us explain the situation from the other way around. What professional publication companies like Elsevier and Springer want to see is, that a group of people have written a paper and this group can convince Elsevier to publish the paper.

On the first look this might look surprising because a paper is usually determined by it’s content and not by the number of people who were involved. This assumption is not formalized and in reality it is not the way how the system works. The publication system works not on a content base, it works on interaction. This prevents, that Academia is divided into chunks. If only papers created by groups are allowed, every single person who wants to be part of the system must first convince somebody else to work together with him.

The question is not if independent researchers are allowed to publish their papers, the question is, if a single researcher is allowed to write down his idea. In the current system the answer is no. I would guess, that even a long-term university professor who is well informed about a subject is not allowed to publish a paper alone. That means, without forming a group of at least 3 authors. If he is trying to work alone, he is out of the system. Not because his idea is wrong, but he is not interested in group working.

What exactly is group working? I have no idea. If this become clear it is possible to publish a paper. From an artificial Intelligence perspective, group working is some kind of interactive intelligence. That means, that a work piece is distributed between different persons. Wikipedia is an example in group working. The result is a certain kind of community which is different from the work of a single user. Suppose a workgroup decides to make a Wiki in an intranet and after a year they are trying to publish it. According to the hypothesis this is possible, even if the content has a low quality and the person are not involved in higher education.

I would guess also, that the famous “peer review” system is not a quality control, it is a groupwork control. That means, if a paper was peer reviewed this is equal that the work was not done by a single researcher.

The school of the future

According to older publications, teaching in schools is hard and is based on concepts which can be learned in teacher training courses. No it’s not. It is very easy to transform a school into a super-school and is has to do with buying things which are provided by external suppliers.

Let us research companies and products for the educational sector. What kind of goods a school can buy at the free market? At first, the school building itself, which is usually located in a central place in a city. After the school building itself, the gymnasium is important, which contains of a football field and equipment likes basketballs and stopwatches for running trials. Inside the school building, many other infrastructure has to be bought. For example electrical current, a fast internet connection and PC rooms. What good schools and universities also have are specialized lab-rooms. They can contains 3d printers, music-equipment, a recording studio, a robotics room, a movie theater and so on. The funny thing is, that all the equipment can be bought for money. It is nothing, what somebody has to learn, it is somebody what is provided by external companies.

What the role of human teachers is in school is simple: introduce the equipment to the students. That means, a sport teacher should be familiar with the tennis area, a music teacher should be able to handle the midi-keyboard, while a robotics teacher should be able to program the Nao robot. If the teacher is also able to make formal lessons, the school will be great. That means, the students will love the years, and they will learn a lot.

If this concept has a name in the official literature is unknown. I would it call a infrastructure guided education plan. That means, the idea is to organize the school around hard measurable things which costs money and the teaching itself will follow after the infrastructure is there. Or to make it clear: if the class is in the music-room, every student has a keyboard in front of him, and the teacher is an experienced reggae producer, it is very hard to do anything which isn’t about music.

Some teachers and companies are argue, that Google chromebooks will be the future. No, they don’t. Chromebooks are the standard today, the future is something which works better. This is called Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. That means, the trend is, to use Lego Mindstorms and Nao humanoid robots together with Chromebooks. This helps to improve the education system a lot and makes the student ready for the future. And if a school is already is equipped with robots, the next hot thing are 3d printers to print out the self-designed robot, and if the school already has 3d printers the next big thing are tissue printers to create new teeth for mice in the biology lab …

How to improve education in schools

Some European school teachers are struggling with creating an encouraging atmosphere in schools and the result are frustrated students who are not motivated to learn. But what is the best practice method in education? The main idea is to establish an infrastructure which allows organizations outside of the school to get influence in a pedagogical meaningful way. That means, a learning atmosphere is nothing what a school can provide from within, it is something which is requested by a school to the society.

Let us define some potential stakeholders who are providing tools which improves learning experience. At first hand it is a company who delivers the building itself, that means bright rooms and nice chairs. But also a supplier for food is important for a school this can be a cafeteria supplier or in detail: McDonalds.

After the school building is available and the food supply chain works, we can talk about the technical infrastructure. That is usually a computer network, which means a server, WLAN connections, computers and tablets. Also an Internet service provider is needed for a fast internet connection. If this technical side works, the next step is to analyze which kind of educational material are helpful to support learning in schools. The most famous one is perhaps Wikipedia. Students who are browsing through this encyclopedia for answering questions or simply because they play the Wikipedia game (how to get from word1 to word2?) are doing a lot for improving their skills. The next step after Wikipedia is the introduction of robotics in the classroom. The cheapest way in doing so is the Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit, which costs around 300 US$ each.

Lego is an external supplier which is specialized in providing educational resources to schools. It is like the school building itself and the computer pool, nothing what the school has by itself, but something which is come from the outside. That means, the Mindstorms EV3 kit is provided to the school and the school has to pay money back to Lego. If the school is rich, they will come to the conclusion, that Mindstorms is a nice starting point, but the Nao humanoid robot is the better choice in teaching students programming. The Nao robot costs more (around 10000 US$ each) but motivates the students better. They will love the device, especially because many students have not enough money to buy such a toy for their own at home. That means, they are going to the school because that is the place where they can meet their friend Nao.

To make all this happen in a teaching environment, teachers are needed. That is a person who is familiar with robotics and also with the social role of teaching the subject to students. It is a good idea, If the teachers are better informed about Artificial Intelligence than the students. This helps to build a trustworthy situation, in which students can ask for help, if they have an issue. Especially in the domain of robotics, they will have a lot of them, because that the software doesn’t work and the network connection is broken is the normal case. What good teachers and good students are doing is fixing open problems all the time and this is equal to become familiar with a subject.

What I want to explain is, that a positive learning atmosphere is something which has to be bought from the outside of the school. It is delivered by tech-companies and projects in the internet. A good school has to select between these deals and pay for the services. Or to explain it the other way around: if the aim is to establish a non working school then the school secretary has to cancel the contract with the Internet-service-provider, cancel the contract with the food supplier, cancel the contract with Apple, cancel the contract with Lego/Aldebaran Robotics/Wikimedia and as a result the school will become the worst teaching environment ever with a low amount of discipline and frustrated students who hate the institution.

Paper statistics for Artificial Intelligence

A detailed statistics of academic papers is provided by https://www.scimagojr.com/countryrank.php It is possible to filter the result for year and subject. In the subject “Artificial Intelligence” the database contains 650000 papers in the period from 1997-2017. Most of them are created by China and the U.S. which have each provided 111000 documents. The amount of worldwide paper production in the AI domain is given by the chart. Each year around 50000 papers are created newly. The paper production over all subjects is worldwide around 3.5 million each year. That means, the AI topic has a share of 1.4%.

Limits of group work in business and science

Sometimes group work is discussed under psychological questions, for example if somebody fits to a group or not. But in reality this question has only a minor priority. Because there is no alternative to group work. Any company and any government organization contains of teams. And if they don’t, they are planing to do so. The reason why is simple. Because team works make it easier to execute repetitive tasks. What the employees are doing all day long is no longer focus the work itself (which is mostly the same), but they are focussed on social aspects. It is some kind of Facebook for adults. In big companies for example, everybody knows everybody, and if not there is ongoing discussion about the reason why. What the employees in daily life are really talking about is the workflow which affects their group. It is not really a private talk which is held on Facebook. But it is a mixed talk between persons who are responsible and work which have to do. This forms some kind of social network which is grouped around companies need. That means it is not a violation of internal rules to form a team and to model a process, but it is main goal of the company.

I want to give an example. If employee A is sending an E-Mail to employees B in which he asks for the current status of a file, it is not a violation of internal e-mails, instead it is called by everybody work. Or to make the point clear, it is naive to assume that a company is not using group work.

But what are the disadvantages for forming a social hierarchy which is full of personal conflicts? There is no disadvantages, it is the right choice for handling tasks which are happening in companies. But let us switch the focus away from companies into the domain of research. Before a new product can be developed somebody has to research it. A look into the 50 Million papers available at Google Scholar will show us, that 99% of them were created by teams of researchers. At least 2 researchers but in most cases, by 4 up to 10. That means, the scientific papers were created with the same principle like a company will organize his accounting department. It is a combination between task specific needs and the ability for individuals to become member of team. In the case of scientific research it is very easy to tell what the limits of workgroups for researchers are. The problem is that they are not thinking out of the box. That means, if the researcher is part of the team he is not able to leave the team. He is some kind of prisoner. The result is an academic publishing system as we see today. That means, the papers are copyright protected and they were only created within research organizations. I’ve found not a single paper at Google Scholar which were written by a team but was created outside of the research-sector.

Somebody may argue, that this is only given by random. But in reality it is the result of teamwork. If the paper writing process was organized as a team, and if the team is part of large company, then the resulting pdf-file is copyright protected. That means, it is some kind of groupworking science what we seen today. Yes, it works very well. A team with 10 people with a different background is a better author than a single author, but the question is not what the quality of a paper is, the question was, what the limits of a group are.

The limits are, that scientific teams have replaced alternatives. That means, research done by professionals which are forming workgroups is the only research available. And if somebody controls the founding he controls the output the teams are producing. Let us observe the latest output from the global workforce of researchers, which was published only 2 days ago, https://arxiv.org/abs/1808.07658 The paper has 8 pages, is about a combination of LSTM neural networks and natural language processing and it’s quality is amazing. That means, the paper is correct, it is easy to read and gets the maximum score.

Let us take a look into authorship. It contains of 5 authors from a professional research organization, located somewhere in the world. That means, the paper was created in a workgroup. They have figured out the title, the text and the figures in a dialog and the paper is the result.

Why was the paper not created by an individual which is located outside of a research organization? Because they can’t. It is not a strict rule which forbids individuals to publish a paper about LSTM networks it is the result of how science is organized. The obvious problems with team oriented science research is, that nobody outside of the small group of researchers is able to reproduce the work. That means, the process knowledge of how to create science papers is not available in the public domain. Sure, the 50 Million papers at Google Scholar can be downloaded, but the only group of person who is able to create them are 10 million people, called researchers which are organized in teams and who are working outside of normal society.

It is not possible to criticize the paper on a topic level. Everything what we can read in it is correct, the problem is, that around 6.9 billion people are not able to write such a paper. Either they can’t speak English, or if they do, they are not familiar with LSTM networks. And that is a direct result of group working in the research sector. For the research sector itself, group working is great. It simplifies the workflow and let the researcher work more efficient. They are not only involved in interesting topics, they are also part of a group, which give them identity. The problem is that nobody else outside of research can profit from it.

Let us go back to the beginning of the posting. Today’s work is organized in groups. That is true for standard workflows in companies for example in the banking sector, but it is also the case for research projects. Group working supports the needs of large organizations. It makes companies more productive, and research organizations more innovative. The problems with workgroups is, that they have a tendency for building a circle around the organization. In the example of normal companies this is not a problem. The public doesn’t need to know who exactly the workflow in a certain bank is, or what an employee earns. And even if the public knows it, nobody cares. That means, the office in the chase Manhatton Bank doesn’t look very different from the office at Enron. And all what a company is producing is money and goods. Both of them is well known.

But what happens if a resarch organisation is forming a team and the public doesn’t know what the team has figured out. The aim of science workgroup is not to create money or to produce consumer products, their output has to do with knowledge. The value of knowledge is higher then what the Chase Manhattan Bank has to offer. Protecting the knowledge makes sense, or to be more specific it makes sense for the workgroup which has created it. And this is the problem. The public has a need for advanced knowledge, while the groups who have created it, have the need to protect the knowledge. They are releasing only the final product, called the paper but nothing more.

The alternative is discussed under the term “Open science” since around 10 years. The idea is not only to publish a paper, but also reduce the amount of team work. This would help to transfer the knowledge into the public. The problem with todays science research is, that their productivity is a bit too high. That means, if we are putting 5 researchers in a group, give them enough sleep and a goal, they will find an answer for everything. If they know each other it will help a lot. They are working better in a team then alone. The problem is, that they like it a bit too much. That means, group working has to much advantages for an organization and for an individual that he evaluates an alternative. The result is known. It is called the knowledge gap. That means, the worldwide 10 million researchers know everything about everything, but the rest of the population is watching comedy shows in the television about a tragic figure called Sheldon Cooper. They are laughing about him, but they don’t know why.

Let us talk about how important groups are for researchers. In the famous Academia forum it is possible to make all the postings visible which are about group working, https://academia.stackexchange.com/search?q=group Right now, more than 5000 postings are online. That means, all the researchers are in groups, and if not they are planning so. It is possible for everybody to join a group and write together with experienced researchers a paper? Technically it is possible. According to my knowledge, they are using normal e-mail clients, and most of them are running under Windows 10 operating system. They are sending back and forth messages. But from a social perspective the situation is a bit different. It is only possible to become member of a group, if at least the phd title was given to a person by a university. I’ve never heard, that a non-researcher has attended a research group.

Alternatives

Assume the case, that a company is forced to not using teamwork, assume the case that a research organization is also prohibited to form teams. Are both happy with it? No, because teamwork is a very powerful tool. It improves productivity and creates a stable situation. Using not teamwork is similar to not using a helping hand. This will not work.

Making notes with Lyx

Creating a scientific paper can be easily done with LaTeX, or to be more specific with the Lyx frontend which is a very fast opportunity to create professional looking documents. The software is able to handle floating images, references, chapters and can generate PDF documents. But sometimes a full blown academic paper isn’t what the user want to create. Sometimes he only want to make short notes without formulating complete sentences in English. The good news is, that also Lyx is the right choice. In the above screenshot I’ve made an example who note taking will work.

The idea is very equal to an outliner software. On the left side there are sections which can be hierarchically and on the right side the user can create the notes itself. A nice feature of Lyx is, that it can highlight important areas with colors and it is even possible to insert small graphics. Somebody may ask what the purpose of notes can be. The answer is, that it is a fast way to browse through existing information without writing a paper about it. If something is useful, only a note-entry is generated by the user. And sometimes the url can be inserted to. After a while the list with notes will become longer and longer. But, in contrast to a academic paper the old informations shouldn’t be deleted, instead everything remains in the list. New information are put at the end, and important one gets highlighted with blue color. What the user can do with this list is scroll back, what he has read yesterday, last week or last month. He only needs to browse to his outline.

In the past, I’ve experimented a bit with mindmaps. A mindmap is a graphical form of note taking. The disadvantage is, that mindmaps become really huge. In a outline list, the user has no possibility to connect two entries with an edge. On the other hand the list is more compact and it is possible to create large amount of notes in short time. A note list is the better alternative to a mindmap.