Jeremy says: I’m back from seeing family members I hadn’t seen for 18 months. 🙂 Here are a few things that caught my eye when I returned.
Will you be more productive as a scientist (or an artist), if you first explore diverse topics or styles before narrowing your focus? A new unreviewed preprint says yes. I haven’t read it yet, so have no opinion on its claims. Just passing it along in case you want to read and evaluate it yourself, because it sounds interesting. One (obvious) question I have is about separating correlation from causation. For instance, maybe whatever it is that causes some scientists and artists to have periods of extraordinary productivity also causes them to explore diverse topics or styles early in their careers? I had the same question about this new paper arguing that world class athletes don’t specialize as early in their lives as do athletes who only ever become national class. Maybe it’s not that postponing specialization causes you to later become world class once you do specialize. Rather, maybe it’s that world class athletes can put off specialization for longer, without risking their potential to eventually achieve world class performance in whatever sport they end up specializing in. If you’re a Bo Jackson-level athlete, maybe it’s not that (say) playing football as well as baseball makes you better at baseball once you eventually decide to specialize in baseball. Rather, it’s that, if you’re that good of an athlete, you can play both baseball and football at a very high level without having to specialize in either. Anyway, half-baked analogies between these studies, and Rich Lenski’s work on the evolution of evolvability, are left as an exercise for the reader.
If you’re an academic researcher, does it help your productivity to have face-to-face collaborators? Does it matter how productive those face-to-face collaborators are themselves? Here’s an interesting blog post review of the data, much of which comes from studies of evolutionary biologists. Not sure I’d draw any strong conclusions, for two reasons. First, existing research on this topic doesn’t try to estimate the importance of face-to-face working group meetings. Second, because I’m not clear if existing research allows for the fact that face-to-face collaborations often pursue different kinds of research than other sorts of collaborations do (e.g., working groups writing review and perspective papers, vs. face-to-face collaborations collecting their own data).
And finally, here’s a lovely folk song, putting to music what Charles Darwin might’ve felt as he set off on the Beagle voyage:
Have a good rest of your weekend. 🙂