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Multi-Partner Settings: Biological Markets & Social Dilemmas
The terms ‘biological markets’ and ‘social dilemmas’ stand for two different forms of complex cooperation among entities ranging from bacteria and insects to monkey groups and nation states. The theoretical developments in the two fields have been largely independent. Moreover, because cooperation has been studied in many different disguises in many different scientific disciplines, there is also considerable scope for interdisciplinary exchange. The workshop was an attempt at cross-fertilisation between these fields and disciplines.
The workshop itself can be seen as an experiment in cooperation. We tried to avoid having a mini-conference dominated by talks prepared before the event. We only invited three participants to give talks during a public evening at the NIAS, which was notably meant to give the NIAS-fellows a glimpse of the workshops’ main themes. In view of the number of participants (52) giving traditional talks would have led to an unproductive split into two classes of invited speakers and listeners. Instead we invited all participants to propose themes to be defended by their proposers on the first day. A web-site dedicated to the workshop made its structure, content, program and the theme proposals visible for many months in advance. The main site, which also gives lists of participants with a personal page for each of them, can be found here: (https://sites.google.com/site/multipartnerworkshop/home).
Eight themes were proposed before the start of the meeting of which one was not defended, because the proposer could not attend the first days of the workshop. One additional theme was proposed during the first day. During Monday’s last session six themes were formed by recombination out of the original nine and the participants chose the themes they wanted to participate in. This process went surprisingly smoothly. The proposed themes and theme groups formed can be found here: https://sites.google.com/site/multipartnerworkshop/theme-groups.
The structure of the rest of the workshop was straightforward: full days of discussion in the theme groups (Tuesday and Thursday) were followed by presentations and discussions of the progress in the theme groups in plenary sessions on Wednesday and Friday.
The activities of the theme group continue, whereby communication within and between group takes place via the workshop intra-site, a second web-site accessible to the participants only, on which each theme has its own page. The workshop will certainly result in a number of review papers and some papers presenting new theoretical models, but at this point in time we haven’t decided yet to do this in the form of independent papers or a series of papers in a dedicated issue of a journal.
Ronald Noë (NIAS, Netherlands)
Mark van Vugt (VU Amsterdam, Netherlands)
The echo from the participants about both format and organization was generally very positive. Here are a few quotes from emails we received from participants in the days following the workshop (see also a blog by Joan Strassmann: http://sociobiology.wordpress.com/)
Uskali Mäki (a philosopher specialised in economics): Great many thanks again for the privilege of being part of a most exciting interdisciplinary endeavour. I learned immensely, not only about the contents of theories used in biology, but also about the disciplinary culture of reasoning in biology and some cognate fields. In the course of my academic life, I have participated in a very large number of meetings labelled "workshop" ‐ but yours was more workshop‐like than any of the others I have experienced. This was truly adventurous and thus risky, but you won ‐ and we all won. Novel ideas and new constellations were sketched, and time will show what the final fruit will be, and how revolutionary they are.
Gergely Boza (a theoretical biologist): Thank you very much for the invitation again, and for organizing such a good workshop. I loved the place and the inspiriting environment. Allow me to comment on the workshop structure, and share my feelings. I think the structure turned out very well, I would have only minor observations. For me, it would have been better to have more intra-group discussion, maybe instead of the Wednesday joint session. These two days were not enough for the intense inter-disciplinary discussion (unless the group had some strong preliminary concept already), but was enough to start something useful. The other thing is that inter-group discussion might need to be forced more. So maybe the closing presentations and discussion might need more time, that really motivate people to start discussing. I felt that the time was enough only for some comments, but if one has an hour to say something, they might discuss more. In summary, I think the structure and the idea of such workshops may give a chance to do some good science, and not only at the individual level, but also more at the group level. I hope my comments help you and the Lorentz Center to organize workshops that leave a mark in the future as well.
Michael Gumert (a field-primatologist): I found the workshop intensive and productive, and found the open style a more stimulating form of engagement from the typical style line up of talks all week. It definitely gave us all a week to think about BMT in ways none of us had before – which is a step forward. Was also a good way to meet potentially new collaborators/colleagues.
Shakti Lamba (an evolutionary anthropologist): Thanks very much again for inviting me to the workshop. I really enjoyed it and think I learnt a lot! It was great to be able to spend so much time chatting to people freely about their work. Everything was beautifully organised, as usual, making for a wonderful week! I do have one point of feedback about the way the workshop was organised. I think while the general format of the workshop was really good, it might help if in the future each of the groups was organised around a specific topic that had been pre‐identified as one that requires review. The topics could be determined by you or could be proposed in advance by participants themselves (which is what happened this time) but maybe it would help if the topics were specifically identified on the basis that they are areas where some kind of synthesis or review of the literature is required. Then the aim of each group would be to produce a review on their group topic. I know this is what you aimed to do this time while also allowing for flexibility so maybe it’s just a matter of being more strict with us lazy participants about pre‐identifying reviewable themes! Either ways though, I have come away with plenty of food for thought as I am sure have others!