[open-science] How can open science stop the privatization of science?

Peter Murray-Rust pm286 at cam.ac.uk
Mon Mar 17 09:22:28 UTC 2014

The 19th century created a tradition of industrialists funding research
(sometimes scientific medical, sometimes social) - examples in UK are
Wellcome (a drug company which was a charitable organization), Lever and
Cadbury (social housing), Rowntree (research into poverty). One feature of
this was that the companies were often family owned and the family
transmitted values to each generation (maybe through religious
affiliation). A common structure was for the individuals to create Trusts
which acted to protect the values against vagaries of individuals.

When individuals (as in the IT boom) become mega-rich this can often inject
money with new purpose - as the article highlighted. (I am currently the
beneficiary - thank you! - of Mark Shuttleworth's wealth - this is
(rightly) administered by a Foundation).

The problem comes when
  (a) individuals wish to use the wealth for monopolistic control of an
area. For digital goods this is particularly problematic as costs of scale
are small. Examples are D*sn*y, Maxwell(+), Murdoch. The primary weapon
against this (weak as it is) is public awareness.
 (b) the wealth is administered by a corporate. Corporates are amoral, and
we have seen the problems of modern banks. They will be governed by
group-think and income-generation motivation. Who is the CEO of Elsevier?
Last time I looked it was effectively a non-entity in the public view. That
leads to stagnation of vision and staff pushing legal and moral boundaries.

Anything we can do to help citizens make good innovative moral changes will
help to raise awareness. We can hope that when the personal founders of
companies are looking to improve humankind we and others have a variety of
tools to help them take their visions forward.

On Sun, Mar 16, 2014 at 2:46 PM, Puneet Kishor <punk.kish at gmail.com> wrote:

> A few random thoughts --
> 1. The comments on that article are just as thought-provoking as the
> article itself, so make sure  to scan through them.
> 2. Most of those billionaires are American. Fine by me, but billionaires
> of other countries might want to start putting their money under the
> microscope as well.
> 3. This is not something new, at least in the US. Foundations have long
> funded scientific research in the US, and most all Foundations have sprung
> from the earnings of private business folks.
> 4. In these days of shrinking govt. budgets, getting the monies of these
> billionaires may be better than not getting anything, even though it means
> the envelope of science being pushed may be pushed in a rather skewed
> manner. (for example, if a nut-job like Koch is gonna be against climate
> change, well, so be it, but at least his money is funding food allergies
> and prostate cancer).
> 5. Govt. funding will continue to be a function of the will of the people.
> We, in the open science area have to not only practice open science but
> continue to work on policy-for-open-science, and policy-for-science in
> general. Much of my energy is spent on policy-for-science.
> 6. For us to "win," "they" don't have to "lose." (lots of "scare quotes"
> in there, but take it for what it stands for you. For myself, I do believe
> in it more and more.)
> --
> Puneet Kishor
> Manager, Science and Data Policy
> Creative Commons
> On Mar 16, 2014, at 5:16 AM, Rayna <rayna.st at gmail.com> wrote:
> > Dear all,
> >
> > I hope this finds you well. Below is a brilliant piece that discusses
> the increasing trend of privatization of science:
> >
> http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/science/billionaires-with-big-ideas-are-privatizing-american-science.html?hp&_r=1
> >
> > It discusses the question of how funding alters research and science in
> general from an epistemological perspective (although it doesn't say it
> that way :) ).
> >
> > This is of course a crucial question to address. We as Open and Citizen
> science advocates, might come up with a slightly different one: is
> Open/Citizen science a means to sanitize research practices when it boils
> down to funding?
> >
> > Looking forward to reading your thoughts :)
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Peter Murray-Rust
Reader in Molecular Informatics
Unilever Centre, Dep. Of Chemistry
University of Cambridge
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