I had the fun a long time ago of being the first bidder on this auction:
Today Bill told a bit more of the story.
See, something else happened: During the sale dozens of people contacted me by email and telephone. They weren’t seeing it as a joke. They were anxious to bid. They regretted being unable to participate. The wanted to work with me on research, or with anybody on research, or have a chance to carry forward research they had started but lost.
They wanted to collaborate.
They were graduate students, and laymen, and people with Ph.D.s and M.S. and other advanced degrees in mathematics and science and engineering and humanities and social sciences and art. And they were busy, and focused, and full of ideas and every one felt disenfranchised.
For one reason or another they felt unable to collaborate in serious research, to follow ideas through to completion with colleagues. They were stymied by sexism (MIT-trained female math Ph.D., forced into industry by uncollaborative peers), by the burden of diligence (graduate and undergraduate students, or industrial researchers ordered to focus and pay attention on their immediate work), by the walls of the many-siloed Ivory Tower itself. Or they were smart academics in the right position, who had nobody willing to collaborate with them in a culture that over-values competition and secrecy and primary authorship. Some were full professors, fully-credentialled but held back by service or administrative obligations, or funding hardships, or some other oft-voiced complaint. Some were in small ivy-covered undergraduate teaching institutions, or community colleges, and just out of luck for chances to do some work.
Nobody seemed dumb. Nobody sounded like they were trying to scam a lightened workload by foisting the hard part of their project over to me. Nobody was trying to cheat on their homework or thesis. Nobody was a creationist, nobody was astroturfing. They all made it sound as if finding a colleague was the best thing they could imagine.
I make it out to be very general, very broad, almost ubiquitous. There was diversity in the character of response, but I’m not exaggerating: nearly two dozen people contacted me. This expression of disenfranchisement was a shared trait of a stream of email correspondents, and people who called me directly on my business line. They didn’t really care how good or bad I was, and maybe didn’t care too much about my credentials. The fact that I seemed capable, and serious, and willing to give my time and energy to thinking and talking with them about something they were interested in that was enough.
I have a catalog of insta-theories for Open Source, but that there is always a kind of desperate undercurrent of demand for quality collaborators isn’t in that catalog. I’ll go fix that.