Using crowdsourced mathematics to understand mathematical practice

Records of online collaborative mathematical activity provide us with a novel, rich, searchable, accessible and sizeable source of data for empirical investigations into mathematical practice. In this paper we discuss how the resources of crowdsourced mathematics can be used to help formulate and answer questions about mathematical practice, and what their limitations might be. We describe quantitative approaches to studying crowdsourced mathematics, reviewing work from cognitive history (comparing individual and collaborative proofs); social psychology (on the prospects for a measure of collective intelligence); human-computer interaction (on the factors that led to the success of one such project); network analysis (on the differences between collaborations on open research problems and known-but-hard problems); and argumentation theory (on modelling the argument structures of online collaborations). We also give an overview of qualitative approaches, reviewing work from empirical philosophy (on explanation in crowdsourced mathematics); sociology of scientific knowledge (on conventions and conversations in online mathematics); and ethnography (on contrasting conceptions of collaboration). We suggest how these diverse methods can be applied to crowdsourced mathematics and when each might be appropriate.