Posted by: Jeremy Fox | January 26, 2012

Another legacy of NCEAS: devalued introverts?

Modern science is increasingly a collaborative enterprise. In ecology, NCEAS was very influential in driving the shift towards collaboration. But The Curious Wavefunction asks a good question: what if one side effect of this shift is to devalue the scientific contributions of introverts? It’s not just that some good scientists prefer to work alone, perhaps because they aren’t comfortable (scientifically and/or socially) in groups. By virtue of their independence, those sorts of scientists may be the creatives and contrarians, the sources of really new ideas. In future, is it going to be harder for such people to establish themselves and make their mark in science? Is it already getting harder?

I suppose I tend to appreciate this question because until recently I’ve mostly worked solo, or with a very few collaborators. And I certainly know some very good ecologists who are also very shy, and I wonder how that’s shaped their careers.


  1. I agree entirely with the sentiment, but not the characterisations. There are other reasons than introversion that researchers may prefer to work alone – efficiency being just one, egomania being another. I often wonder when I read a paper written by 5 or more people exactly what input each author had. I’ve had different experiences with multi-author papers, with some great collaborations and others containing ‘hangers on’.

    But yeah – I also wonder if we risk developing a “horse designed by a committee” type mentality.

    With the laudible goal of increasing and maintaining diversity across all levels within academia, from gender to cultural and ethnic equality, individuality should not be forgotten.

    • Yes, my gloss on “introverted” was deliberately brief, probably overly so.

      • Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply you were oversimplifying things, Jeremy, even in the context of a short post.

  2. Many people that I’ve encountered who are really fond of “group collaborations” are so because it satisfies some psycho-social need that they themselves appear to be only dimly aware of, not because it necessarily improves the science. Others however are truly interested in the synergistic brain storming that can result. It’s absolutely vital to be able to be able to discriminate between these two kinds of people IMO.

  3. How about devalueing the credits gained for a paper by the number of authors? A paper by ten authors cited 100 times would count as much as one by a single author cited 10 times.

    • On a related note: I remember seeing a study that found that the number of citations was correlated with number of authors.

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