Using an analogy from the intervention of the printing press, Shirkey suggests that alchemists (who were working on turning lead into gold) failed and chemists succeeded in large part because of how they used the availability of printing to share their work. Shirkey writes,
"The problem with the alchemists had wasn't that they failed to turn lead into gold; the problem was that they failed uninformatively. Alchemists were obscurantists, recording their work by hand and rarely showing it to anyone but disciples. In contrast, members of the Invisible College shared their work, describing and disputing their methods and conclusions so that they all might benefit from both successes and failures, and build on each other's work."In short, Shirkey suggests that developing a culture of "sharing" through print is why chemists and other scientists succeeded... not print itself, but a willingness to share using print.
Shirkey extends this thinking to the Internet writing,
"As we know from arXiv.org, the 20th century model of publishing is inadequate to the kind of sharing possible today. As we know from Wikipedia, post-hoc peer review can support astonishing creations of shared value. As we know from the search for Mersenne Primes, whole branches of mathematical exploration are now best taken on by groups. As we know from Open Source efforts like Linux, collaboration between loosely joined parties can work at scales and over timeframes previously unimagined. As we know from NASA clickworkers, groups of amateurs can sometimes replace single experts. As we know from Patients Like Me, patient involvement accelerates medical research."He notes that although experts such as professor, physicians and others who have held a privileged position in regards to the ability to publish their ideas know longer have that position and that we will "will complain about the way the new abundance of public thought upends the old order, but those complaints are like keening at a wake; the change they fear is already in the past. The real action is elsewhere."
Shirkey suggests that we have the opportunity to use the Internet
"as an Invisible College, the communicative backbone of real intellectual and civic change, but to do this will require more than technology. It will require that we adopt norms of open sharing and participation, fit to a world where publishing has become the new literacy."