Lone Geniuses and Collaborrators

From Wired Magazine:

Furthermore, this shift is even more pronounced among influential papers: While the most cited studies in a field used to be the product of a lone genius – think of Einstein or Darwin – Jones, et. al. have demonstrated that the best research now emerges from groups. It doesn’t matter if the researchers are studying particle physics or human genetics: science papers produced by multiple authors receive more than twice as many citations as those authored by individuals. This trend was even more apparent when it came to “home run papers” – those publications with at least 1000 citations – which were more than six times as likely to come from teams of scientists.

I think this research helps explain why the era of the lone genius is coming to an end. If our current lists of global thinkers seem paltry, it’s because the best thinkers no longer exist by themselves, toiling away in a vacuum. Instead, they require the constant feedback and knowledge of others. We live in a world of such complexity that our problems increasingly exceed the possibilities of the individual mind. Collaboration is no longer an option.

You would disagree that the contemporary era is lacking in geniuses? Me, too, but I must say that they quote a compelling bit of comparative research.

But, as the list goes on, genuine intellectuals begin to dominate. There are economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, journalists (Christopher Hitchens), philosophers (Martha Nussbaum), political scientists (Michael Mandelbaum), novelists (Maria Vargas Llosa) and theologians (Abdolkarim Soroush). Despite an inevitable bias to the English-speaking world, there are representatives from every continent including Hu Shuli, a Chinese editor, and Jacques Attali, carrying the banner for French intellectuals.

It is an impressive group of people. But now compare it with a similar list that could have been compiled 150 years ago. The 1861 rankings could have started with Charles Darwin and John Stuart Mill – On the Origin of Species and On Liberty were both published in 1859. Then you could include Karl Marx and Charles Dickens. And that was just the people living in and around London. In Russia, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were both at work, although neither had yet published their greatest novels.

And that’s not even all of it! Read the rest when you have the chance.

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