More Collaborative Than Ever Before

Published on: Aug 12, 2021

Collaboration - DiR1
Image credit: GrAl/Shutterstock

We don’t know what the future holds. But we can be certain of one thing: it will be more collaborative than ever before. 

Collaboration is at the heart of our local and global societies. Humans cooperate today in ways that were unthinkable millennia, centuries, or even decades ago. Think of a distant ancient relative of yours. A homo sapiens living somewhere in Northern Europe 50,000 years ago. While such a human certainly collaborated intensely at a tribal level, the chances that he or she engaged at a broader geographical level were minimal, if non-existent. Moreover, any attempt at global collaboration was hindered by lack of a common language, measures of unit, currency, and so on. 

In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari describes the “arrow of history” as a one-directional arrow consistently pointing towards more collaboration, cooperation, and unification. True, there are wars, conflicts, divisions, and secessions along the way, which all contribute to slow down this process. The road to greater global collaboration is not without hiccups. But, by and large, zooming out through history and observing human progress through a wider temporal lens, it is obvious that we live in a world in which we have unified (or made compatible) cultures, customs, languages, infrastructures, practices, and science. The latter - the unification of science by means of the scientific method - is, without a doubt, one of the most effective vehicles that humans have created to cooperate at scale across the globe (and beyond).

The scientific method provides a foundational set of norms, guidelines, and practices that enable a standard way of formulating hypothesis, making experimental observations, and producing and reviewing evidence-based results. Developed in the late 1600s, by the work of science pioneers such as Copernicus and Galileo, the scientific method lies at the center of scientific advancement and, in turn, global societal collaboration and progress. All the most important discoveries of the last two decades are the product of collaboration among scientists, research groups, labs, institutions, and in some cases entire nations (as in the discovery of the Higgs boson at the CERN’s Large Hadron Collider). 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic offers a plethora of examples of global scientific collaboration. Despite lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and travel restrictions, exchange of scientific knowledge during the pandemic happened in record times, driving important breakthroughs and discoveries. Tens of thousands of researchers used preprint servers to exchange cutting edge findings about COVID-19 with the colleagues and the public as soon as possible, while results were still undergoing formal peer review. The virus itself, and all its variants, were isolated simultaneously by different research teams across the world - these teams compared, verified, and improved each others’ work, working across national and institutional boundaries. Vaccines were developed, tested, and are now being deployed, in record-breaking time, using competing techniques which were constantly compared and improved against one other. These advances and breakthroughs can exist only thanks to systemic scientific cooperation - a global infrastructure to deliver medical, scientific, and policy recommendations based on evidence-based results.  

At Wiley, we believe collaboration is at the core of research publishing. We develop and embrace tools to help researchers exchange scientific knowledge seamlessly across national and institutional boundaries. We believe that the solutions to the world’s biggest problems are not to be found in a single brain, team, product, framework, institution, funding agency, nation, or company.

So, if the world of the future will be more collaborative, what are some big ideas and trends that will shape the world of research? One obvious trend is the rise of artificial intelligence. AI will solve the world’s biggest scientific problems. Today, we’re training machines to read scientific papers. In the near future, machines will not only read, but also write scientific papers. Yet, in order to “tame AI” and direct it to solely beneficial purposes, we will need to develop skills of human-computer collaboration and mediation.