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On freedom of science and freedom of doing science

March 25, 2010

Mohan, mdashf

A log of a discussion I had with a bunch of folks I never saw…

Tony Owopetu
To what extent do you think data from scientific research should be shared ?

Austin T Mohr
Fully, freely, and without reservation. Of course, I’m a mathematician AND an idealist, so what do I know?

Manmohan Dash
Dear Austin, your sarcasm at self is very well taken. But I fully, freely and without reservation agree with your observation…

Manmohan Dash
the problem the antagonists of that scheme cite are ones of propriety and plagiarism. Like, if you share your data somebody else might coup you in going ahead and claim the science to be their own. But then I think that’s a basic problem of science rather than problems of this scheme.

Austin T Mohr
“Like, if you share your data somebody else might coup you in going ahead and claim the science to be their own.”

When are we going to move beyond notions of “my discovery vs. your discovery” and just work toward the common goal of “discovery”?

Manmohan Dash
Probably never. Because there in lies the threads of our bread and butter. I can happily give up on notions of my discovery [and i have done many times] but the fact that i can still talk about these discoveries are in a fundamental way reflecting as “my discovery”. In other words there are no selfless discovery.

But your ideals are something I cherish myself. Our ultimate goals should be to emancipate these discoveries from the chains of “you” “me” and “mine”, “yours”. Only in those circumstances can we truly realize the passions of these discovery and feel embarrassed by the rewards it brings forth. This in itself is one of the most important ideals of science.

Austin T Mohr
“…but the fact that i can still talk about these discoveries are in a fundamental way reflecting as “my discovery”.”

The word “my” here can be applied only in a extremely strict, technical sense. It reminds me of a similar argument about selflessness in general. If I value selflessness, then performing a selfless act is in itself a reward, and so my act is no longer selfless. I feel this is an exercise in semantics brought about by a poor definition of the word “selfless”. One acts selflessly not because it brings joy (though it should and does do so) but because it is the RIGHT thing to do. This nebulous notion of “right” is what some attribute to mere warm feelings, but I feel that in attaining true selflessness, one rises above even these feelings. I do something because it is what SHOULD be done – no other reason.

Manmohan Dash
the “should be” and “right to be” done are pretty subjective, not only in the sense we perceive it but also how others would appreciate it. Otherwise it wouldn’t only be selfless it would also be useless not in the sense that a person is useless because he discovered these ideas. But how would you feel if you are not at-all appreciated after making selfless discoveries. These discoveries have to be appreciated by everyone yourself including, for it to have some meaning.

Manmohan Dash
in other words nature doesn’t intend us to be selfless. it intends us to be part of the process. selflessness is not excluded. Its just part of the process as much as self-involved-ness

Austin T Mohr
I feel we are a bit afield from the original topic. I call for free, open sharing of all scientific data. If I understand your rebuttal correctly, you fear such openness will result in misappropriation of due credit for discoveries. Consider, however, the rapid pace of development that could be achieved if all information was shared and all work was joint work. Can you defend that ensuring the discoverer receives proper credit is more important than quickening the pace at which new discoveries are made?

Manmohan Dash
Hi Austin, you got me exactly opposite to what I intended. I supported your idea of free science. I mentioned the antagonists of free science. Ideally we both are holding same values. I just cited the practical side as well.

I just wanted the discussion to be a little less lopsided.

And about credit, I still hold that due credit be given to the due person because the discovery has been made, so credit is not going to hamper the process of discovery, and giving credit to “someone’s” discovery doesn’t make it a selfish discovery. The discovery is still waging its tail to be used by us selfish humankind.

Giving due credit to due people propagates science and discovery in the right direction. But giving credit to the wrong person may kill the motivation of good science.

Also there may be multiple independent discoverer of the same discovery. eg. Richard Feynman, Tomonaga and Schwinger all of them discovered QED independent of each other.

I agree that freeing information and data can make discoveries rapid as well the competition. In that sense I don’t care if someone can not compete to make a discovery fast enough. I am not vouching for such a person at-all even if hypothetically that person could be me.

But once the discovery has been made he who has discovered [or they, independent of each other] be given the credit. Also I have been sometimes felt handicapped due to lack of “free” information by a supposedly free collaboration, so I wouldn’t have a reason to put-forth a non-free regime of science and discovery.

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