I, like most scientists, probably spend an inordinate amount of the percentage of my time that is devoted to reading papers focusing on recently published papers, technical reports and manuscripts. With the pace of new research, aided by access to open-access publications (PLOS, etc), this should be expected. I routinely stumble across older papers and wind up reading them again as a refresher, but most technical reading time tends to be dedicated to those papers published typically in the current or prior year. However, taking an important message from a recent post on Werner Vogels' All Things Distributed blog, I think it is important to set aside some regular time to get Back to Basics.
There are many reasons to do this. Recognizing and revisiting the work that current research is built upon is always useful, and seeing how much has changed (or hasn't) in a particular field over the period of a few decades is always helpful in constructing a point of view. As soon as I read the first line in the referenced Vogels post, it resonated with me that structuring some time in the mix for the reading of some older papers & books, both technical and philosophical, would be a useful practice. With the steady stream of new research and books increasing, this practice will help frame some of my thoughts, as well as spur some new ideas for future research.
I plan to start by reading some of the papers/chapters/books that (a) either influenced my decision on which lab to pursue in graduate school, or (b) were part of the early graduate school seminar (or tea) readings that proved to be influential. Here are a few that I will start with in no particular order (except for the Schneider book, which comes first); others will be added & discussed.
- Schneider, S. The Coevolution of Climate and Life. 1984.
- Smith, J. M. Evolution and the Theory of Games. Cambridge University Press, 1982.
- Margulis, L. & J.E. Lovelock. Biological Modulation of the Earth's Atmosphere, Icarus, 21, 471-189, 1974.
- Lorenz, E.N. Deterministic nonperiodic flow. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences 20 (2): 130–141 , 1963.
- Nowak, M. A. & May, R. M. Evolutionary games and spatial chaos. Nature 359, 826-829, 1992.
- Taylor, P. D. & Jonker, L. B. Evolutionary stable strategies and game dynamics. Math. Biosci. 40, 145-156, 1978.
- Foresman, T. The History of Geographic Information Systems. 1998.
- Cane, M.A., S.E. Zebiak and S.C. Dolan. Experimental forecasts of El Nino. Nature. 321 (6073): 827–832. 1986.
- Colwell, R., Global climate and infectious disease: the cholera paradigm. Science, 1996.
- Freeman, C., and L. Soete. The Economics of Industrial Innovation. 1997.
- Minsky, M. The Society of Mind. 1988.
This is just a starting point, but all are now on my list of publications to (re)read. Looking at this list, it is worthy to note that while my PhD advisor was(is) a mathematician/physicist, his range of interests is quite broad, which probably drew me to his lab early on.