Let’s be aware of dichotomization (CCK08)

The tendency to dichotomize issues is always strong, mostly when the new is at stake.

The discussion in this (outstanding) course makes no exception, ranging from the thoughtful reflections of Lisa Lane to the maximalist tirades of Catherine Fitzpatrick.

However, dichotomizations are dangerous because one may easily miss the whole picture and its complexity.

A couple of examples.

  1. Scientific literature – network
    From an An Open Letter to the U.S. Congress Signed by 33 Nobel Prize Winners (pdf):
    For scientists working at the cutting edge of knowledge, it is essential that they have unhindered access to the world’s scientific literature.  Increasingly, scientists and researchers at all but the most well-financed universities are finding it difficult to pay the escalating costs of subscriptions to the journals that provide their life blood.  A major result of the NIH public access initiative is that increasing amounts of scientific knowledge are being made freely available to those who need to use it and through the internet the dissemination of that knowledge is now facile.

    The clientele for this knowledge are not just an esoteric group of university scientists and researchers who are pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge. Increasingly, high school students preparing for their science fairs need access to this material so that they too can feel the thrill of research.  Teachers preparing courses also need access to the most up-to-date science to augment the inevitably out-of-date textbooks.  Most importantly, the lay public wants to know about research findings that may be pertinent to their own health diagnoses and treatment modalities.

    The scientific literature is our communal heritage.  It has been assembled by the painstaking work of hundreds of thousands of research scientists and the results are essential to the pursuit of science.  The research breakthroughs that can lead to new treatments for disease, to better diagnostics or to innovative industrial applications depend completely on access not just to specialized literature, but rather to the complete published literature.  A small finding in one field combined with a second finding in some completely unrelated field often triggers that “Eureka” moment that leads to a groundbreaking scientific advance.  Public access makes this possible.

  2. Enterprise policy – network
    An article entitled “An open secret” in the Oct 20th 2005 Economist issue reported that IBM in 2004 earned 3,248 patents and pledged 500 software patents to the open source community (IBM invested $1 billion in Linux), to allow open source developers to use the innovations and without risk of infringement.

    When asked why would a firm that cares so much about intellectual property want to give it away, Mr Kelly, the head of the company’s intellectual-property division, answered “It isn’t because we are nice guys” and he explained that the reason was to fear that patent rights have swung so far towards protection that they risk undermining innovation.

The question is not about sticking to the good old or to be infatuated with the new, but to find a reasonable balance for any given context.

3 thoughts on “Let’s be aware of dichotomization (CCK08)

  1. Catherine Fitzpatrick says:

    It’s not so new, for one, dude. Pretty reheated stuff. For two, I engage in legitimate and necessary criticism, not “tirades”. In fact, you yourself must be out at the extreme if you cannot see this moderating influence I bring : )

    What you are complaining here about scientific subscriptions is actually a very old theory. And…how do you propose to pay for the scientists’ work and the costs of the journal if you offer it for free? Do you wish the government to pay for everything and thereby control everything?

    IBM likes opensource because it enables them to exploit others’ labour for free and crib their ideas. That’s what it’s about. Also a very old story.

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