Elizabeth Pisani has written an excellent article in The Guardian describing the increase in productivity caused by the sharing of information, but pointing out the redundant research undertaken by rival geneticists during the gold rush of DNA sequencing in the 1980s. With payment being re-directed to only benefit researchers who were willing to immediately share their work and release their results, the geneticists were able to build off one another’s work and ensure they weren’t duplicating research into existing DNA sequences.
This process is reminiscent of the advent of modernist art, where the late 19th century saw Paul Gauguin abandon his involvement in modern life and relocate to Tahiti. Whilst there, he resented the new technology occupying a space he deemed only fit for ‘natural life’ and began to lose focus on realistic portraiture.
He took up work of abstract representations of people, since the old work was now being done by the camera. Little did Gauguin know, due to the slow communications and unglobalised nature of the world at that stage, but back in his home country of France Paul Cezanne was making a groundbreaking departure from impressionism himself, conceiving the early beginnings of cubism.
What the Guardian describes is a false economy of distance created by secrecy and mistrust. Geographic location means next to nothing in the scientific community these days, so it is interesting to note that human nature has re-birthed the same multi-faceted ‘progress’ which was previously borne only of circumstance.
Going further, John Wilbanks writes in Seed Magazine that the very concept of science discoveries being referred to as ‘papers’ harkens back to an arbitrary classification of knowledge as a physical item, arguing instead that the ‘rip, mix and share’ culture of iTunes should be the model we all go by, focusing on the consumption of knowledge rather than its production.
Indeed, with production becoming almost entirely obsolete next to the scale of duplication, what reason do we have not to provide ample opportunity in our incentive schemes to mimic this economy of free? Jeff Jarvis argues that information, enlightenment, amusement, amusement, experience and engagement are all results which have previously been delivered in the form of content. But content is only one such form. Deliverable value is inherent in human culture by our propensity for sharing with our neighbours because it makes *us* feel good. “The possibilities explode”, writes Jarvis. “If Wikipedia were copyrighted by a publisher, it would never have become Wikipedia because it would be owned, not shared.”
Alternate avenues for distributing value are increasingly commonplace now, and it seems the only reliance upon dissemination of ideas through snail’s pace intermediaries is borne of greed and mired in a fear of contributing to the commons and losing one’s rightful place in history. Turow et al state that “a creative person should have some assurance of being rewarded for his[sic] innovative work.” That copyright ensures such rewards. But try telling that to Antonio Meucci.
Aiken, P, Shapiro, J & Turow, S, 2011 “Would the bard have survived the web?” The New York Times <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/opinion/15turow.html?_r=3&scp=1&sq=turow&st=cse> retrieved 10 May 2011
Jarvis, J 2011 “It’s not all about content and work”, Buzz Machine <http://www.buzzmachine.com/2011/02/15/its-not-all-about-content-and-work/> retrieved 10 May 2011
Pisani, E 2011 “Medical science will benefit from the research of crowds”, The Guardian<http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/11/medical-research-data-sharing> retrieved 10 May 2011
Wilbanks, J, 2011 “On Science Publishing”, Seed Magazine <http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/on_science_publishing> retrieved 10 May 2011