Friday, November 13, 2009

Can Economists Learn from Tao's Example? Will Academic Economics Become Open Source?

Terence Tao, a UCLA star math prof, is using his blog as an open source platform to allow countless math nerds to work together on the same paper at the same time.

"After six months and more than 1,000 comments from more than 50 mathematicians, a paper titled “A new proof of the density Hales-Jewett theorem” is ready to be submitted under the pseudonym D.H.J. Polymath because of the difficulty in determining how much each person has contributed. The paper is one of the first to be collaborated through a blog.

Though Tao has experience with long-distance collaboration, he said cooperating through a blog was an exciting experience.

Instead of e-mailing back and forth with his coworkers, new comments arrived every hour. Not all of the comments contributed substantially to the paper, but the environment was more open.

“It almost became addictive,” Tao said, laughing. He had continuously refreshed the page for new comments."

Here is the article and here is the blog .

Could economists mimic Tao's approach to science? Will this approach reduce the demand to be close to star economists? Will the University of Hawaii rise in the rankings as excellent scholars want to live there and it doesn't affect their productivity?

Now the challenge for petty economists, is that we all say that we stand on the shoulders of giants but each of us wants to be the giant. It appears that Tao has created a less egotistical "common property" approach for making progress.

Now in applied micro, we all know that nobody would put in the time to clean and prepare a new data set if he/she couldn't be a monopolist and use it once it is clean and ready to go. It must be the case that in math that there aren't the same fixed costs for getting ready to solve a problem. In math, a whole bunch of decentralized nerds must each have some knowledge that is worthless except if it is simultaneously brought together with the other parts. This O-Ring is a little bit different than in economics that may have more of an additively separable production process.

I do think that the leading journals should create blog pages to allow people to comment on the papers.