# Mathematical research and the internet

On Monday night I attended a lecture by Terry Tao on “Mathematical research and the internet”. Terry is Australia’s most famous mathematician, our only Field’s medalist, and one of the most active mathematical bloggers in the world. He has been described as the “Mozart of mathematics” for his remarkable precocity and prolific output. The slides of his talk are available on his blog site.

It was an interesting talk, with excellent slides, marred only by the poor sound system and his bad habit of mumbling. I keep a pretty close eye on internet developments that affect research in my field, so there wasn’t a lot new for me, but the following observations may be of interest.

Mathematical blogs are providing a means for recording the informal chats that are an invaluable part of research but were never previously written down. These are the sorts of things that happen at conferences, in tearooms and hallways, or over dinner. The advent of informal blogs allows these chats to be online, with interaction via commenting, and fully searchable.

There is a list of mathematical blogs on the Academic Blog Portal although the statistics list is incomplete – it omits Chris Lloyd’s excellent Fishing in the Bay blog.

The quality of mathematics on Wikipedia is slowly improving (although it has a long way to go in statistical modelling, and especially in forecasting).

The Tricki is a useful resource for mathematical tricks.

The advent of pre-print repositories (notably arXiv for mathematics, but RePEc for econometrics) has changed the way new results are distributed and how we stay in touch with current research.

There are now a handful of high quality mathematical presentations on YouTube. e.g., this one on Moebius transformations.

Single authored papers are becoming less common due to increased internet interaction and the rise of more cross-disciplinary research.

Open online collaborative research is an emerging possibility. The first (mathematics) experiment in this direction has been Polymath which has been a huge success so far. The first problem was solved (although the results are not yet written up). Presumably this could work for statistics too, although the number of potential participants is much smaller.

Terry concluded by saying

In some ways, there are too many such technologies. And they don’t always work well with each other. But these issues should fade with time as later generations of tools become easier to use, more integrated, and more mainstream. Eventually, some version of these tools will be as universally adopted among mathematicians as email and LaTeX are today.