Sunday, October 15, 2006

Numb3rs of Collaborators

Last week's episode of Numb3rs The Mole had a mildly interesting academic side story. [Mild Spoiler Warning] Charlie, the mathematician, discovered that his friend Larry, the physicist, published a paper without asking Charlie to collaborate on the math, which according to Charlie would make the paper go from "very good" to "great". Larry later confessed to Charlie's dad that he worried too much about relying so much on a single collaborator, especially one so busy helping his brother at the FBI. Eventually Larry and Charlie talked out their issues and agreed to work together again.

In the real academic world you rarely see two people collaborate almost exclusively over a long period of time. We all have certain people with whom we collaborate often because we have similar interests, complement each other's skills, or simply that we work well together. But having a single collaborator can lead to narrow research, using the other as a crutch and worrying that outsiders won't know which one is the stronger researcher. But most importantly we thrive on variety and having different collaborators keeps research exciting.

1 comment:

  1. Exception: Neil Robertson and Paul Seymour. They have had an amazingly long-lived and productive collaboration.

    Peter Shor