IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

Understanding the emergence of 'open science' institutions: functionalist economics in historical context

Listed author(s):
  • Paul A. David

This essay exposes the limitations of the 'logical origins' approach that has found favour among economists who seek to understand the workings of institutions in the past present. It pursues a different approach, applying functionalism in historical context to explain the emergence of the characteristic ethos and institutions of 'open science'. The emergence during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries of the idea and practice of 'open science' represented a break from the previously dominant ethos of secrecy in the pursuit of 'Nature's secrets'. It was a distinctive and vital organizational aspect of the scientific revolution, from which crystallized a new set of norms, incentives and organizational structures that reinforced scientific researchers' commitments to rapid disclosure of new knowledge. To understand how this came about, it is necessary to examine the economics of patronage and the roles of asymmetric information and reputation in the early modern reorganization of scientific activities. The rise of 'cooperative rivalries' in the revelation of new knowledge is seen as a functional response to heightened asymmetric information problems posed for the Renaissance system of court patronage of the arts and sciences; pre-existing informational asymmetries had been exacerbated by increased importance of mathematics and the greater reliance upon sophisticated mathematical techniques in a variety of practical contexts of application. Analysis of the court patronage system of late Renaissance Europe, within which the new natural philosophers found their support, points to the significance of the feudal legacy of fragmented political authority in creating conditions of 'common agency contracting in substitutes'. These conditions are shown to have been conducive to more favorable contract terms (especially with regard to autonomy and financial support) for the agent--client members of western Europe's nascent scientific communities. Some lessons may be drawn for contemporary science and technology policy debates, in which the open science mode of pursuing knowledge often seems to be viewed a robust concomitant of the power of scientific research techniques--whereas it is a fragile cultural legacy of western Europe's history, upon which rests the ascendancy of modern science as a driver of long-term economic growth. Copyright 2004, Oxford University Press.

To our knowledge, this item is not available for download. To find whether it is available, there are three options:
1. Check below under "Related research" whether another version of this item is available online.
2. Check on the provider's web page whether it is in fact available.
3. Perform a search for a similarly titled item that would be available.

Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal Industrial and Corporate Change.

Volume (Year): 13 (2004)
Issue (Month): 4 (August)
Pages: 571-589

in new window

Handle: RePEc:oup:indcch:v:13:y:2004:i:4:p:571-589
Contact details of provider: Postal:
Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP, UK

Fax: 01865 267 985
Web page:

Order Information: Web:

No references listed on IDEAS
You can help add them by filling out this form.

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:oup:indcch:v:13:y:2004:i:4:p:571-589. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Oxford University Press)

or (Christopher F. Baum)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.