The Economic Logic of “Open Science” and the Balance between Private Property Rights and the Public Domain in Scientific Data and
The progress of scientific and technological knowledge is a cumulative process, one that depends in the long?run on the rapid and widespread disclosure of new findings, so that they may be rapidly discarded if unreliable, or confirmed and brought into fruitful conjunction with other bodies of reliable knowledge. “Open science” institutions provide an alternative to the intellectual property approach to dealing with difficult problems in the allocation of resources for the production and distribution of information. As a mode of generating reliable knowledge, “open science” depends upon a specific non-market reward system to solve a number of resource allocation problems that have their origins in the particular characteristics of information as an economic good. There are features of the collegiate reputational reward system -- conventionally associated with open science practice in the academy and public research institutes – that create conflicts been the ostensible norms of ‘cooperation’ and the incentives for non-cooperative, rivalrous behavior on the part of individuals and research units who race to establish “priority.” These sources of inefficiency notwithstanding, open science is properly regarded as uniquely well suited to the goal of maximising the rate of growth of the stock of reliable knowledge. High access charges imposed by holders of monopoly rights in intellectual property have overall consequences for the conduct of science that are particularly damaging to programs of exploratory research which are recognized to be vital for the long-term progress of knowledge-driven economies. Like non-cooperative behaviors among researchers in regard to the sharing of access to raw data-steams and information, and systematic under-provision the documentation and annotation required to create reliably accurate and up-to-date public database resources, lack of restraint in privatizing the public domain in data and information can significantly degrade the effectiveness of the entire research system. Considered at the macro-level, open science and commercially oriented R&D based upon proprietary information constitute complementary sub- systems. The public policy problem, consequently, is to keep the two sub-systems in proper balance by public funding of “open science” research, and by checking excessive incursions of claims to private property rights over material that would otherwise remain in the public domain of scientific data and information.
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