Innovation via Open Source science

I’m interested in justifications of Open Access that are oriented toward public policy (and, especially, ethics-oriented justifications). Examples of the latter are arguments based on what’s been called “Open Source Ethics”, see:

From this perspective, there’s a thought-provoking article in Working Knowledge (Harvard Business School): “Open Source Science: A New Model for Innovation”. Q&A with: Karim Lakhani. Published: November 20, 2006. Author: Martha Lagace,

The first two paragraphs:

In a perfect world, scientists share problems and work together on solutions for the good of society. In the real world, however, that’s usually not the case. The main obstacles: competition for publication and intellectual property protection.

Is there a model for encouraging large-scale scientific problem solving? Yes, and it comes from an unexpected and unrelated corner of the universe: open source software development.

A noteworthy excerpt:

“Innovations happen at the intersection of disciplines. People have talked about that a lot and I think we’re providing some systematic evidence now with this study,” Lakhani says.

Anecdotal evidence of my own supports the view that innovations are more likely to happen at the intersection of disciplines. From this perspective, an advantage of Open Access is that it makes the outputs from research and scholarship easily accessible to those in other disciplines.

Another noteworthy excerpt:

The ideals of science are, of course, openness, sharing, and no restrictions on the free flow of knowledge, but in practice that doesn’t happen much at all. Some scientists, however, are pushing back and many say they need to rethink how they conduct science.

Of course, “no restrictions on the free flow of knowledge” is an ideal shared by the Open Access and Open Source movements. It’s been suggested by David Berry that the principles of “Open Source Ethics” include “openness, decentralisation, sharing, collaboration and mutual support“. See: “Internet research: privacy, ethics and alienation: an open source approach” Internet Research 2004; 14(4): 323-332, available via:

Perhaps “Open Source Ethics” should be renamed “Creative Commons Ethics” (or some other term that’s more widely applicable beyond the Open Source/Open Access context)? For more about Creative Commons and iCommons (“an organisation with a broad vision to develop a united global commons front by collaborating with open content, access to knowledge, open access publishing and free culture communities around the world“), see the links at: “Meeting with Heather Ford of iCommons”,

Two final excerpts from the Lakhani interview:

There’s a growing movement and establishment of nonprofit foundations that are participating in drug discovery efforts. These foundations aren’t as concerned about intellectual property as they are about finding a cure or treatment for a disease, and it’s likely that they might open up solutions as well.

When you talk with lawyers, most of them say, “Protect, protect, protect, close, close, close,” but there are some very innovative licensing schemes and innovative ways by which you can allow others to peek into your process and not give up the entire keys to the kingdom.

Creative Commons licenses provide examples that are well known to those involved in the Open Access movement. See: “Choosing a License”,



1 Comment »

  1. tillje said

    Another relevant article is The value of the public domain by Nate Anderson, 27 November 2006. An excerpt:

    Pollock also touches on Google (which relies on indexing “open” content), online file-sharing, and open source software to drive home his main point: “open, ‘public domain’ approaches can generate commercial as well as societal value.” When developing social policy, his paper serves as a reminder that those who argue for a robust public domain need not hate business or want to keep artists from being compensated. The public domain produces its own benefits, which need to be weighed against those offered by patents and copyright; the choice is not a stark one between “producing value” and “producing nothing”.

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