Substepr was created to allow theoretical progress in science and engineering to become far more openly collaborative. Substepr is a very simple way to make new ideas openly and freely available by offering everyone a very cumulative way of sharing progress whilst solving problems or coming up with new ideas.
Yes, original research
Substepr's development was catalysed by the "no original research" policy on Wikipedia. Substepr is here to show that original research on a wiki is actually extremely valuable and very easy to manage if you just think about it and organise it correctly. People still find it hard to believe that Wikipedia works at all. Miikka Ryokas, a computer science student noted that, "The problem with Wikipedia is that it only works in practice. In theory, it can never work." which implies that the mechanisms that allow Wikipedia to work are not immediately intuitive and still not fully understood but we can say, based on observation, that it works in practice. Original research on Substepr is just an extension of the particular practices and guidelines that Wikipedia manage to uphold. It clearly can be done. The challenge now is to find people who will make use of Substepr and make it grow to it's full potential.
How to solve it
Substepr was originally inspired by the frustration that you might also have felt as a physics or mathematics student who is made to do lots of time-consuming problems but never given any solutions. By the time the exams come round, there's always at least one problem that you didn't have time to understand or complete. That's a part of your course that you'll probably never have time to learn. That's not right. You should have the choice of either facing the problems alone to test yourself or learning how they should be done, so that you make better use of your course material. Furthermore, while you're staring at a piece of paper, you're only learning to solve the problem at the instant when something useful occurs to you. For the entire hour that you were staring, manipulating and thinking without getting anywhere, that time is wasted. If only you had seen a similar problem before. You would then be able to learn the problem solving skills you need and save yourself a lot of time. You would know how to think, what questions to ask, where to look. You might even be able to move on to solving much harder problems with relative ease. Life is too short to waste it staring at a blank page. Substepr offers you a way to solve problems progressively and once and for all so that the lives of others don't have to be poured away on the mistaken belief that thinking and believing the wrong things repetitively for a long time is productively educational. A process of elimination is indeed progress, but it's not very efficient progress. One could certainly make more efficient use of ones time by trying easier problems first or being given more information about that type of problem. Problem solving has been understood much better in the last few years. For starters, read "How to solve it" by G. Polya. Don't just stare at the page and hope to get lucky. First, explore the problem to gain a deeper understanding, then proactively test possible routes to a solution, using your understanding and experience to dictate what to test first, and, at the same time, stay alert for lucky insights.
Why we don't offer cash prizes like Innocentive or IdeaConnection
If people are trying to get the prize money rather than only trying to solve the problem, they'll be less inclined to get to the heart of the problem. They'll be blinkered to focusing on the given definition of the problem because everyone else who's competing for the money would be doing that too and you know that the judges will try to be fair, so they'll also stick to the problem definition. This is a short sighted way to solve problems. It works well if the problem definition is clear but seeking a solution then resembles programming a computer. The slightest error in the problem definition will give you a useless output and a lot of wasted time and money. The trick is to make use of our intelligence and fully understand the problem first before attempting to solve what we think the problem is. If you remove the competition for prize money then people will really be more open to trying to understand the problem together first then also to collaborate over a solution. This would offer a much more practically useful solution in many cases than using prize money. Furthermore, after a competition is complete and no prize is available, the effort to keep working on the solution disappears. On Substepr, the solution will continue to be perfected a year after the problem was "solved". There might be a way to do the same thing much more concisely and efficiently that we missed. The motivation won't have changed after someone deems it "complete" or "solved". We'd still be pursuing it because we want to perfect the solution. The motivation is constant over a much longer period of time and follows a much more effective problem solving mentality. It's simple really. The goal is to solve a problem, so make that the only goal. Anything else is a distraction.
Substepr was founded by Simon Costantino - a 2011 graduate of the University of St Andrews (UK) with a masters in theoretical physics.
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