A fellow quantum computing researcher of mine recently joined FriendFeed. Along with another researcher we got involved in a discussion about a paper concerning a certain recent claimed “disproof of Bell’s theorem.” (arXiv:0904.4259. What it means to “disprove a theorem” like Bell’s theorem is, however a subject for another comment section on a different blog.) But, and here is the interesting thing, this colleague then made a trip to China. And FriendFeed, apparently, is blocked by the great firewall of China, so he had to email us his comments to continue the conversation. Which got me thinking.
China is a country that has been, historically, a great power. It is, by all accounts, returning to that status with the a wave of lifting of its people out of poverty (numbers I’ve seen are from like over 60 percent below poverty a few decades ago to 10 percent recently, though it’s not clear to me that the poverty level (a few dollars per day) used is the really relevant number.) It has, even more interestingly, achieved an amazing increase in the production of people with a large amount of education. From under 10,000/year PhDs a decade ago to nearly 50,000/year recently, there has been a huge increase in PhDs in a very short span of time. In some minds, the rise of China is the dominant story of the coming decades. This is equally true in academic circles where the productivity of science in China has been rising rapidly.
But my colleague’s experience made me wonder a bit. Suppose that you take at face value the idea that online tools are going to change how we do science (through any of the numerous forms that such tools can now take.) If the Chinese government is banning tools that allow for collaboration (in our case, just a mere discussion) then, despite all they do, I wonder if this might cause a severe lack of bang for their Ph.D buck. Do we really believe that the kind of large scale data sharing or online collaborating, for example, that characterize Science 2.0 will be easy to carry out under the probing eye of the Chinese government? Of course, I’m as far from an expert in China and Science 2.0, so I can’t even begin to approach this question. But it did strike me that there are some fairly strong preconditions assumed by those pushing online tools for science that don’t seem to hold for numerous countries around the world, including China.
Or, in other words (executive summary), those of you doing Science 2.0 can now think about yourselves as modern freedom fighters. Hazzah!