Polymath projects for other disciplines too?

While I was revisiting Gowers‘ “Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction” my mind wandered to the first Polymath project (essentially a massively collaborative effort to solve certain mathematics problems where participation seemed to follow the 90-9-1 principle). Anyone who wants to learn more about Polymath can start from “A gentle introduction to the Polymath project

Anyway, as I was reading the paragraph I was looking for, it struck me: Do other disciplines have similar efforts? Wouldn’t it be nice if they did? If not, why? One minute later a second strike came:

– Wait a minute! We were there before Polymath! We have Hackathons!

Although more free spirited (in a Hackathon anyone can tackle what they want) the outcome is to the benefit of the society concerned with the event.

However hackathons seem disconnected from academic enviroments and it is a pitty. Big conferences occur yearly and people have fun discussing their work at the hallway tracks exchanging ideas and strategies. It seems a bit of waste that so many bright minds together do not sit around a blackboard, or even collaboratively over the Net, and discuss about attacking a problem, any problem, that has endured the test of time. Bright Math people did it, why not the rest?

With HDMS approaching, maybe this is something to consider for the last session. So if anyone from those going to Cyprus is reading, keep this at the back of your head. I could be wrong and such an effort may not be feasible in another discipline, but I would like to know why.

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