13 August, 2007

LPS and Intellectual Property

No, the two titular nouns aren't related, at least in this post. Instead, they're bullet points:

1) LPS
Arg the stuff! It's everywhere. Everywhere! Even in endotoxin-free water.

2) Intellectual Property
So I wound up raising a little bit of hell the other day on an Alternet article. Basically, I asked whether or not the public should have a say in how the public funds for medical research are distributed. The responses were...interesting, and thought-provoking. It was, for one, pointed out that the public already does, theoretically at least, have a say in how funds are distributed through the voice they elect in their elected voice people. But this process is so obscure and convoluted that public funds for medical research are, fundamentally, completely in the hands of the agency that dispenses them and therefore subject to whatever dark processes or technical idiosyncrasies that the agency sees fit to impose. There is also the problem of everyday, non-nerd people understanding the highly detailed and technical knowledge needed to comprehend science itself and appraise it. This is very much exacerbated by the common inability of scientists to communicate without resorting to esoterica and jargon.

Representatives! That's what elected voice people are called...

Nonetheless, all of this also drew in the question of intellectual property and how it is defined and used. I mean, as a scientist, if I worked really hard on some kind of knowledge, quantifying, statisticifying it, etc., I'd be rather very much pissed off it someone else came and looked at my datas and scooped them and beat me to publication and got all the credit for my hard work. Publish or perish! But this is what supports the whole current structure of science, in which we guard our projects kind of closely (especially from other institutions) while closely collaborating with a select few within the same, or closely-related, institution. In addition to this, new knowledge is submitted to august journals for peer-review. While peer-review is necessary for making sure that research is kept up to quality and accurate and real, it also hinders the conversion of knowledge into practice and possibly also the rate at which science, and hence understanding, progresses as a whole.

Let us, for a moment or two before laughing at it, consider the possibility of a massive research wiki application. Scientists could got there to upload their findings and other scientists could read those findings and, as such, be up-to-date on the cutting edge continually, instead of having to rely on PubMed (not dissing PubMed, just saying that it can be a bit cumbersome at times, like a lovable fat aunt, but then, I guess that the wiki proposed above could wind up being a lot like a spastic, hyper-caffeinated troop of twinned monkey children). Would science then go faster? Would technology follow faster? And, most importantly, would improvements to the average quality of life for non-scientists and average people be faster?

But, on the other hand, how would grant funding be decided? How would the role of intellectual property change? How would scientific accreditation change? Would the profit motive (here, more academic recognition than cash) change for scientists? And in the end, would this be like changing in cookies and milk (PubMed) for Red Bull and coffee? Or does chaos theory hold that even hyper-caffeinated monkey children will eventually move together to create some kind of Electric Slide Dance order?

And I'll leave you with that, the mental image of spastic, hyper-caffeinated, twinned monkey children doing the Electric Slide.

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