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[ba-unrev-talk] May the source be with you -- open source Biology

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0207.thompson.html    (01)

"The whole corporatized system, however, rests on the ability to hoard 
information. The information and its dissemination has to be owned through 
government-granted patents and licenses, if the discoverer is to make big 
money on it. In one way, that's fine. The prospect of profits inspires 
research and our increasingly corporatized system has produced some notable 
medical breakthroughs and innovations--drugs to treat high cholesterol and 
depression, for example. Perhaps most famously, it was a private company 
hunting for gold, Celera, which figured out a new way to decode genetic 
data and spurred the mad race to mapping the human genome.
But hoarding information clashes directly with another imperative of 
scientific progress: that information be shared as quickly and widely as 
possible to maximize the chance that other scientists can see it, improve 
on it, or use it in ways the original discoverer didn't foresee. "The right 
to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of 
what one has recognized to be true," reads the Albert Einstein quote 
inscribed on a memorial outside the National Academy of Sciences offices in 
The great physicist, then, might be disappointed if he learned that in 2002 
he'd need approval from 34 different patent holders before buying a new 
kind of rice genetically engineered in Costa Rica to resist a tropical 
virus. Or that, according to a recent Journal of the American Medical 
Association survey, three times as many academic geneticists believe that 
sharing has decreased in their field over the past decade as believe it has 
increased--despite the ease with which one can now transfer information 
online. Indeed, nearly three-fourths of the geneticists surveyed said that 
a lack of sharing had slowed progress in the their field. Info-hoarding may 
help explain at least part of the decline in pharmaceutical innovation. 
According to a recent study by the nonprofit National Institute for Health 
Care Management, a rapidly increasing percentage of new drugs approved by 
the FDA have the same active ingredients as other drugs on the market. In 
other words, the industry may not be innovating as much as learning how to 
market and package old drugs in new ways.
Fortunately, a potentially revolutionary counter-trend is developing. A 
small but growing number of scientists, most of them funded by the National 
Institutes of Health, are conducting cutting-edge research into the most 
complex problems of biology not in highly secure labs but on the Internet, 
for all the world to see. Called "open-source biology," this work is the 
complete antithesis of corporatized research. It's a movement worth 
watching--and rooting for. "    (02)