19: Scientists, collaboration, and groupthink with Albion Lawrence (EF, JP)

In this episode John and Elizabeth sit down with Brandeis string theorist Albion Lawrence to discuss cooperation versus solitary study across disciplines. They sink their teeth into the question, “Why do scientists seem to do collaboration and teamwork better than other kinds of scholars and academics?” 

The conversation ranges from the merits of collective biography to the influence of place and geographic location in scientific collaboration to mountaineering traditions in the sciences.  As a Recallable Book, Elizabeth champions The People of Puerto Rico, an experiment in ethnography of a nation (in this case under colonial rule) from 1956, including a chapter by Robert Manners, founding chair of the Brandeis Department of Anthropology. Albion sings the praises of a collective biography of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, A Message to Our Folks. But John stays true to his Victorianist roots by praising the contrasting images of the withered humanist Casaubon and the dashing young scientist Lydgate in George Eliot’s own take on collective biography, Middlemarch.

First image taken of a black hole by a collaboration of scientists for the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project

Discussed in this episode:

Richard Rhodes Making of the Atomic Bomb

Ann Finkbeiner, The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite

James Gleick, The Information

Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation

Black Hole photographs win giant prize

Adam Jaffe, “Geographic Localization of Knowledge Spillovers as Evidenced by Patent Citations

Jamie Cohen-Cole, The Open Mind

Julian Steward et al., The People of Puerto Rico

Paul Steinbeck, Message to Our Folks

Jenny Uglow, Lunar Men

George Eliot, Middlemarch

Listen to the episode here:

Episode transcript here

Coming Soon: Celebrity at RTB. In 2019’s final episode , Sharon Marcus sits down with JP to discuss her new book, The Drama of Celebrity. Sarah Bernhardt and mid-century Hollywood never felt so close to today’s YouTube and Instagram influencers.

Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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