Quant opinion: The New Einsteins Will Be Scientists Who Share
From cancer to cosmology, researchers could race ahead by working together—online and in the open. Adapted from Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science.
I couldn’t help but add to the interesting discussion over on WSJ: “For some, (scientific) data equates to intellectual property: MY data, MY IP. Although the Web (including Web 2.0) has had some impact, I believe that the most-effective approach for promoting the sharing of data is to ‘legislate it’ – i.e., ensure project sponsors (e.g., granting agencies) make the sharing of data a policy, as alluded to above. Also, as alluded to above, there needs to be some way of recognizing such efforts, so the merit of sharing data is seen to be of value in and of itself. With such efforts, the data-IP equation can be recontextualized as: OUR data, OUR IP.”
Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment here: when U. of Michigan copyrights the scanning of a book in the public domain written in 1898 and when Google (and others) gets to be co-copyright owner to everything you write online, it’s laudable but naive to think about wikis and open science, without thinking first about the server/hardware/place where that science sits.
It’s not about sharing, it’s about access to the data ! and who gets it. If it’s your tax money at work (i.e. gov’t grant) THEN it should be OPEN !
It won’t be open because the system promotes the ones who publish first. If you publish first you get a grant sooner than your opponents. This is what prevents from disclosing the data. Will the system be changed is a different topic for a different discussion.
We have a conflict of two or more competing concepts here. Yes, people thinking along similar lines can often come up with greater insights than a person working alone because they can bring more views and backgrounds to the forefront. But the public revealing of the ideas as they evolve doesn’t pay the bills, buy laboratory equipment, or pay the taxes. With the patent laws which allow “first to file” to own the rights, a lurker can run off and patent the “cooperative ideas” leaving the collective vulnerable to law suits if they attempt to commercialize their ideas. This is why most companies expect non-disclosure agreements to be signed before outsiders are allowed to be briefed on promising projects.
Research without hope of financial return is called a “hobby”, and if it requires substantial capital investment to advance it often will go nowhere. Commercialization or sales of “owned” IP or products are the only way to build the financial means to advance the ideas.
The solution is often a single company hiring the interested parties and assuring the IP ownership stays with the group. Find a way around the financial needs and incentives and we will get more than we see with “open source” software in other fields.
I fully agree that nowadays securing IP rights is a prerequisite for a successful business.
On the other hand, take a historical trip to England in XIX/XX century and think how much innovations were created that time and how much striking ideas came up in electricity, physics, chemistry and biology. A bulb, electrical engine, radio are just a few examples of brakthrough innovations that still impact our daily life.
Those innovative ideas were created by a league of gentlemen who did science in their spare time. They were rich enough to found their laboratories on their own with a little help from leading universtiites such as Oxford or Cambridge. The ideas came up through unbiased discussions and interactions that happened mostly in the pub after working hours.
Do you think they have thought of IP protection or funding when making discoveries? No, they did it because they found it interesting. They did for a greater cause than just earning money. That’s why I called them “gentlemen”.
Second remark: what would happen if there was a patent for a semiconductor? How fast would the electronics develop ? What if there was a patent for the wikipedia?
My point is that perhaps funding policies, grants, experts deciding which projects will get funded are not obligatory for science to advance. I am from Europe (Poland) and I really cannot think of ANY innovation that was funded by EU Programms that affect my life as much as a bulb, engine, radio, internet and most of all WC 🙂
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