# How about a Polymath-like Project for Theoretical Physics?

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the polymath project is a web-based collaboration of freely contributing scientists in mathematics. Initially starting in 2009 by Fields-Medallist Timothy Gowers, Terence Tao joined efforts later on along with many other contributors leading to a series of papers and ongoing research.

On Physics.SE, there were a number of questions on the main site² and on meta.³° However, it seemed to me that there was not much resonance to be seen. I think the main reason for this is that such a project would need at least one (high profile) senior professional as it was mentioned by Approximist but such individuals were not really attracted by Physics.SE.

However, I think the situation is completely different on the new site. It is clear that Theoretical Physics does not suffer from a lack of quality questions of high claim and that we have gathered a huge amount of knowledge here. Just looking at the five users with the highest reputation (atm), we find four professors (Joe Fitzsimon, Luboš Motl, José Figueroa-O'Farrill & Moshe) as well as one postdoc (Urs Schreiber).

### Why shouldn't we take this opportunity and use some of the questions on the site as seed for collaborative research just in the sense of the polymath project?

Sincerely

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The biggest reason Polymath has been successful is, IMO, excellent choice of problems. The problems they've worked on required rather broad knowledge, but were considered tractable by experts. I'd assume the biggest stumbling block for physics would be finding such problems. Physics problems are often either more specialized or less tractable, but I'd bet this isn't a fatal flaw.

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I'm not actually a postdoc. My appointment is equivalent to assistant professor.

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@LoganMaingi: That might be true and indeed it is true for all kinds of science - the choice of questions is important. Maybe we should see this point as some kind of challenge :) Greets

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@JoeFitzsimons: Ok, sorry, I was only doing a very quick survey, will change it in a minute. Greets

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I don't think this is a bad idea, but I do think the time is not right yet. Of our current open questions very few look like the question is really open in an interesting sense. I'm not even convinced the unanswered questions are necessarily a good source for such questions.

This is actually something we have been thinking of doing on CSTheory, now that we have a community blog through which we can coordinate efforts. However, finding suitable questions seems non-trivial, as you need a few things: a question which might actually be tractable, an approach which seems worthwhile, a way of dividing the problem into bite-sized chunks, etc. It seems like we might have a few suitable questions from the unanswered section of cstheory, but by now there are well over 300 questions there.

In a sense a polymath project is only interesting if you are proving something new and interesting, where the end goal is a paper, but not so much when you are trying to figure out what was meant by the question, or know the answer is already known, or when the question is simply not interesting.

With that in mind, I would suggest we park the idea until the site has grown some more. I do like the idea, but I don't think it is really realistic at our current stage of development.

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answered Oct 11, 2011 by (3,555 points)
Thank you for your answer, Joe. Indeed, one will have to find a suitable set of questions which is the main problem as Logan also pointed out. However, I believe that among all the questions that might be interesting there might be some which are best for such a collaboration - something that you wouldn't do in a serious research but where also one person is not enough to handle the tasks. Of course, I agree that this is not something we should start immediately but just keep in mind :) Greets

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I agree that the stars aren't right yet; but it seems to me that we've a good candidate in Ferrie's [question](http://theoreticalphysics.stackexchange.com/q/417/172) about SIC-POVMS.

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In our institute we have been wondering, for some time now, how to go a step beyond GalaxyZoo or any other WhateverZoo and we have not reached strong conclusions. But ideally, you can consider two kinds of problems, those where you simply need "divide and conquer", even if the divide is to be done among specialised users, and those where you actually expect some insight coming from the interaction of different minds. Polymath is perhaps the only one in the second kind actually having some success. But we could also be open to problems of the first kind, with roasters of "tasks to be done" that could be volunteered.

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answered Oct 12, 2011 by anonymous

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