World’s Most Ambitious Crowdsource

Everyone has heard about the Large Hadron Collider, arguably the most ambitious and complex engineering project ever undertaken, anywhere.  The purpose, no less ambitious, is to answer all sorts of burning questions about the nature of the universe, including whether the Standard Model of particle physics is valid.  Given such ambition and high stakes, it would surprise most people that the LHC is managed in a collaborative manner with very little hierarchy.  Essentially it’s a giant, crowdsourced science experiment.

As Krisztina Holly discovered on her recent visit,”there are no directors. No CEOs or presidents.”  And

Because their community is close-knit and their most valuable currency is reputation, experimental physicists around the world know who contributes. Conversely, the few who have been too proprietary with their ideas have been ostracized. It’s like a crowd-sourced performance review.

Interestingly, because of such thorough amounts of collaboration, Holly points out that it’s unlikely for anyone to win the Nobel Prize.  My favorite part of the LHC though is the (clearly) crowdsourced website.

As an aside, I was curious what the prediction markets think of the likelihood is of finding the Higgs boson (the last unobserved particle predicted by the Standard Model).  Surprisingly, given how important this proposition is to the future of science, there is very little action on it. has two bets: will it be discovered before the end of 2009 and will it be discovered before the end of 2010.  Based on the historical price of these — the latter was a 4-1 favorite as recently as last fall — it seems as though the low odd currently (10-1 and 4-1 against, respectively) has to do mostly with the timing of the discovery and not whether the discovery will happen.  Personally, I’m willing to bet against the Higgs boson’s existence if given 4-1 odds, so anyone looking for some action on this, let me know.

  • Ali

    May 21, 2009 2:38 PM GMT
    It is well known in the scientific world that CERN’s consensus management approach (necessary given it’s funding structure) has limited it’s productivity over the years. For most of it’s existence, CERN built better machines than the US, but came in second in pioneering discoveries. CERN’s one shining moment (W,Z discovery) happened when it was run by a relatively authoritarian director, Carlo Rubbia. There is a good chance that the LHC will repeat this pattern – it’s a great machine in the long run, but the “paper clip and tape” machine at Fermilab will likely see the Higgs first. Shades of the ISR (author – ask your CERN contacts what that means).

  • Ali

    Sorry, I messed up my last comment, which a paste of a reader comment on the original BWeek article you quote.