La scienza non esiste

‘There is really no such thing as art. There are only artists.’

Ernst Gombrich, The Story of Art, 1950

There is no Such Thing as Science, There are Only Scientists – Sex, Science And Profits by Terence Kealey

***

Tesi: la scienza non è un bene pubblico.

***

During the early 1980s the Japanese government initiated a major project, the fifth-generation supercomputer. This was to be a massive but user-friendly parallel computer of 1,000 processors,

Note:PROGRAMMI GOVERNATIVI PER LA RICERCA INFORMATICA. GIAPPONE

The British government launched the Alvey programme to subsidize manufacture and research in electronics, while the European Union launched similar programmes, including ESPRIT, BRITE/EURAM, COMETT, COST, EUREKA, MONITOR, RACE, SPRINT, Telematics and VALVE.

Note:EUROPA

Meanwhile, the US government, when it discovered that half of the computer chips in the F-16 fighter’s fire control radar came from Japan, launched its own $100 million programme, Sematech, to subsidize electronics research.

Note:USA

And what were the fruits of these different programmes of government subsidy? Er, not many. In Britain and Europe electronics manufacturers still struggle, whereas in America the companies that joined Sematech have done no better than those that kept out of it… The different government programmes on both sides of the Atlantic yielded little because they were subsidizing yesterday’s science. The governments were subsidizing research into hardware at the moment that Bill Gates et alia were making their advances in software….

Note:ESITO

The linear model is: Government money → academic science → technology → wealth The public good model supposes that only governments will fund research, whether academic or technological.

Note:IL MODELLO CHE SI HA IN MENTE

WHENCE DOES TECHNOLOGY COME?

a book published in 1972, Wealth from Knowledge: A Study of Innovation in Industry. The study was led by F.R. Jevons of the University of Manchester, who, like everyone else, expected to find that advances in technology emerged from advances in basic science.

Note:ASSUNTO: SCIENZA DI BASE => TECNOLOGIA

when Jevons looked at the origins of the eighty-four innovations that had won the Award in 1966 and 1967, he found to his surprise that they were not based on science, they were based on preexisting technology.

Note:IL PREMIO DELLA REGINA PER L’INNOVAZIONE INDUSTRIALE

And Jevons found that the building of technology occurs not in university laboratories but within the R&D departments of industry.

Note:UNIVERSITÀ O R&D?

Edwin Mansfield of the University of Pennsylvania… That was a devastating study because it showed that some 90 per cent of industrial innovation arose from the in-house industrial development of pre-existing technology, not from recent academic science. Moreover, an earlier study, commissioned by the National Science Foundation, found (to the NSF’s horror) exactly the same, namely that 90 per cent of industrial innovation arose in-house.

Note:EM

IN HOUSE

Mansfield found that around 10 per cent of industrial innovations emerged out of academic research, he also found that those innovations tended to be economically marginal, accounting for only 3 per cent of sales

Note:ACCADEMIA MARGINALE

And the so-called linear model also requires a reverse arrow, because technology can lead as vigorously to advances in basic science as vice versa.

Note:NESSSI ROVESCIATI

witness Sadi Carnot’s Reflexions sur la puissance du feu, which transformed thermodynamics after Carnot realized that Newcomen’s steam engine could not be explained by contemporary physics.

Note:NEWCOMEN E LA TERMODOMAMICA

Consider radioastronomy. As we know, radioastronomy was born in industry when Karl Jansky, an engineer, was tasked by Bell Labs to discover the source of the noise that was disrupting its embryonic overseas radiotelephone service… And it was again in industry where radioastronomy made perhaps its greatest discovery when Arno Penzias (b. 1933) and Robert Wilson (b. 1936) of Bell Labs discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation, thus making the observations that underpin the Big Bang. They won Nobel prizes in 1978….

Note:RADIOASTRONOMIA

Even mighty molecular biology arose from privately funded applied science. How do we know that DNA, a sugar, is the molecule of inheritance? Because Oswald Avery (1877–1955), a doctor, was studying pneumonia at the privately funded Rockefeller Institute. During the 1940s pneumonia was still a major killer, and Avery was studying pneumococcus, one of the bacteria that causes it. Pneumococcus comes in two forms, encapsulated and non-encapsulated, and Avery discovered that if he injected DNA from the encapsulated into the non-capsulated he transformed it permanently into the encapsulated. Thus, out of a piece of privately funded applied research, did Avery discover that the sugar DNA (not proteins as was then thought) regulated inheritance.

Note:BIOLOGIA MOLECOLARE

which is why so many Nobel prizes continue to be won by industrialists. The Nobel prize for the discovery of the transistor, for example, went to W.B. Shockley and his colleagues from Bell Telephone Labs (again!) while the prize for the discovery of the polymerase chain reaction (of Jurassic Park fame) went to Kary Mullis of the Cetus Corporation. Such examples can be repeated ad nauseam.

Note:NOBEL ALL’INDUSTRIA

IS SCIENCE A PUBLIC GOOD?

why should a private individual or company invest in research when they will preferentially benefit others, including competitors, enemies and the unborn?

Note:PERCHÈ INVESTIRE NELLA SCIENZA?

Hiroyuki Odagiri and Naoki Murakimi of the University of Kushiro. Odagiri and Murakimi surveyed the ten major Japanese pharmaceutical companies that, in 1981, together enjoyed $13 billion sales. Those companies performed R&D, and Odagiri and Murakimi found that each individual company could expect, on average, an annual return on its investment in R&D of 19 per cent. Not bad. But each company’s competitors benefited more. By exploiting the advances made by any one company

Note:OPPORTUNISMO

Thus the private returns are argued to be smaller than the social returns, and government support is called for to make up for the reduced private incentive to research. H. Odagiri and N. Murakimi, ‘Private and Quasi-social Rates of Return on Pharmaceutical R&D in Japan’, in Research Policy,

Note:CONCLUSIONE DELLO STUDIO GIAPPONESE

Paul Romer: Research has positive external effects. It raises the productivity of all future individuals who do research, but because this benefit is nonexcludable [ie, enjoyed predominantly by others], it is not reflected at all in the market price [ie, which is too low to incentivize research]. P. Romer, ‘Endogenous Technical Change’ in Journal of Political Economy, 1990, 98:S71–S102

Note:PAUL ROMER

. government’s financing of basic research, whose spillovers are particularly large [ie, whose benefits are enjoyed predominantly by others], is quite appropriate. W. Baumol, The Free-Market Innovation Machine, 2002, p.141

Note:WILLIAM BAUMOL

Yet companies do, in practice, fund science, including pure or basic science, extensively. Repeated surveys, even those of the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex (a leading UK lobbyist for government money for science), show that some 7 per cent of all industrial R&D worldwide is spent on pure science.3 A recent study of British industrial R&D (produced again by SPRU at Sussex) revealed that some UK companies, including ICI, SmithKline, Beecham, Wellcome and AEA Technology, each published more than 2,000 papers between 1981 and 1994, exceeding the output of medium-sized universities.

Note:SCIENZA DI BASE NELL’ INDUSTRIA

Indeed, the quality of science performed in industry is startling. The Times Higher Education Supplement’s 2005 research survey showed that Harvard University is the institution whose science papers are the most cited globally (20.6 citations per paper on average), but coming in second was IBM (18.9), outranking all other universities and research bodies.

Note:HARVARD O IBM?

A survey by the Institute of Scientific Information revealed that, of the seven producers of the highest cited papers in biology, two were private profit-making companies, Genentech and Chiron, whereas another was a wholly private charity, the Howard Hughes Foundation, and three others were private charities, the Salk Institute, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and the Whitehead Institute.

Note:I PIÙ CITATI

Two major US surveys, one by Edwin Mansfield and the other by Zvi Griliches of Harvard, have shown that the more basic science a company performs, the more likely it is to grow and to outperform its competitors.

Note:LA SCIENZA DI BASE RENDE

SOME REAL ECONOMICS OF SCIENCE

Let us consider a company that does basic science in the hope of producing a new product. The company could employ a team of scientists, lock them away in a laboratory, and tell them not to emerge until they have made some discoveries. Since scientists love doing unfettered science, they will love their new task. They will seize on interesting problems, make discoveries (yummie, scientists love making discoveries), write papers, present their results at international meetings and generally have fun.

Note:COME FUNZIONA NELLA REALTÀ

one company that, during the 1960s, based an R&D strategy on such an investment in basic science was SmithKline. SmithKline knew that stomach ulcers are caused by acid… So SmithKline charged a team of scientists, led by James Black, to explore the science of histamine and stomach acidity…. After the expenditure of much SmithKline money they found both their receptor and their specific histamine 2 blocker, Tagamet. That discovery helped propel Black to his Nobel prize in 1988,

Note:UN ESEMPIO

but did it make SmithKline much profit? Er, no. The company that did make the profits, with Zantac, was Glaxo. Zantac is the drug of choice for ulcers, and it has made Glaxo well over $10 billion in profit.

Note:CHI CI GUADAGNA?

The head of Glaxo’s research team was Dr David Jack. Jack was a copy-cat. One night he attended a lecture of Black’s, and he returned to Glaxo the next day determined to produce a more potent derivative. Copying is easier than original research, and Jack soon came up with Zantac.

Note:GLAXO COPY CAT

David Jack may have accessed Black’s work at an evening lecture, but could you have? If you had swept off the streets into Black’s lecture hall, would you have rushed off the next day to copy Tagamet? Or would you have gone home to a reality TV show and wondered what all that incomprehensible rubbish of Professor Black’s was about? It is, quite simply, a myth that published science is freely available to the public. The number of people who, on hearing Black speak, could have gone off and copied him was tiny.

Note:SOLO UNO SCIENZIATO BEN FORMATO PUÓ COPIARE

COPYING IS GOOD BECAUSE IT IS THE BASIS OF SCIENCE

We can now begin to understand why companies invest in pure science. As the economists Wesley Cohen and Daniel Leventhal noted in their 1989 paper ‘Innovation and Learning: The Two Faces of R&D’,9 companies do research as much to learn from others as to make their own discoveries. Science is a vast enterprise, and no single company can begin even to anticipate all the discoveries being made daily all across the world.

Note:ECCO PERCHÈ IL PRIVATO INVESTE NELLA RICERCA DI BASE

No matter how big a company, most of the discoveries that matter to it will be made elsewhere. Consequently, so-called ‘second-mover’ advantages often outweigh ‘first-mover’ advantages, and it is often better to be an opportunist than a pioneer: it is generally better to keep up with all the world’s research – to develop opportunities as they arise in others’ labs – than to try continuously to invent the wheel oneself.

Note:LA SECONDA MOSSA

‘The exhaustive survey of the scientific literature, collection and analysis of various information, establishment of R&D targets, and coordination between various research groups.’

Note:PRIORITÀ DELLA GLAXO… PER COPIARE MEGLIO

Genentech, where the legendary Robert Swanson had already understood that he would attract the best scientists only if he allowed them to research freely and to publish as freely.

Note:GENENTECH

Du Pont has been doing R&D for over a century, and over that time it has experimented with different ways of doing R&D, sometimes providing its scientists with the freedom to research and publish at will, sometimes binding scientists to corporate goals and to secrecy. And it found that when scientists were discouraged from publishing or from researching freely, their productivity fell, crippled by low morale and resignations. Du Pont has learned to provide its scientists with freedom.

Note:DU PONT

without funding pure science, companies would not retain the scientists to scour the journals, trawl the meetings and talk the talks that yield others’ first-mover nuggets that spawn the in-house second-mover profits.

Note:SPENDERE IN RICERCA DI BASE PER TRATTENERE I MIGLIORI

scientists are in-house consultants. Their real value to the company arises not so much from the research they do in-house (nice though that may be) as from the information they import.

Note:IMPORTAZIONE

It is simply a myth that science is freely available to be copied for nothing. When Jack and his research colleagues at Glaxo were copying Tagamet to produce Zantac, Glaxo’s profits fell from £87 million (1977) to £60 million (1980) as research costs rose from £17 million (1976) to £40 million (1981).

Note:COPIARE COSTA

When Edwin Mansfield examined forty-eight products that, during the 1970s, had been copied by companies in the chemicals, drugs, electronics and machinery industries of New England, he found that the costs of copying were, on average, 65 per cent of the costs of original invention.

Note:COPIARE COSTA IL 65% DEL VALORE ORIGINALE

Copying is expensive and time-consuming because each copier has to rediscover for themselves the tacit information embedded within the innovation.

Note:INFO TACITE

Mansfield found that some inventions actually cost more to copy than they had to invent because the copiers had had to acquire so much tacit knowledge.

Note:PARADOSSI FREQUENTI

TACIT KNOWLEDGE

One of Boyle’s rules was that a research paper should provide sufficient details for any other researcher to reproduce the experiments – that is, a paper had to have a ‘methods’ section as well as a ‘results’ section. In demanding such transparent publication, Boyle was reforming an unhelpful aspect of the science of his day, namely that of discreet publication… So some scientists, having dated the report of a discovery, would seal and deposit it with a college or lawyer, to open it only to dispute priority with a later competitive publication….

Note:LA PRIMA REGOLA DI BOYLE

Yet, ironically, nobody could reproduce Robert Boyle’s own experiments, no matter how carefully he described them. All over seventeenth-century Europe, scientists tried and failed to repeat Boyle’s work. Eventually people realized that, to reproduce his experiments, they had to visit Boyle in person and handle and dismantle and operate his air pumps themselves.

Note:BOYLE SCOPRE LA CONOSCENZA TACITA

Consequently, the copying of other people’s technology is not cheap but, rather, expensive, because the most difficult part of the copying is the laborious repetition of the inventors’ acts by which to acquire their tacit knowledge.

Note:CONOSCENZA TACITA E COPIATURA

copiers first have to discover, by systematically reading the research papers and patents, attending the meetings and sustaining the collaborations, that there is a new discovery or patent or process or product to copy and, as the Nobel economics laureate George Stigler showed in his 1961 paper ‘The Economics of Information’, acquiring that knowledge is horribly expensive.

Note:LA DURA VITA DEL PLAGIATORE

And who is going to acquire the information? Why, only competent scientists, who can maintain their competence only if their own first-mover experiments are properly funded, because only if their own competence is maintained will they retain the capacity to judge the opportunities and value of others’ innovations.

Note:UN LAVORO DA SCIENZIATI DI PUNTA

Copying someone else’s discovery, therefore, incurs three separate costs: the actual or ‘marginal’ costs of copying of it; paying the scientists to discover its existence; and funding the company scientists’ research to retain their tacit research competence. When those costs are summed they add on average to the costs of the original invention.

Note:I TRE COSTI DELLA COPIATURA

WHY DO SCIENTISTS PUBLISH?

Which raises a key question: why should anyone publish discoveries when that publication will preferentially benefit other people? Sometimes the answer is relatively trivial. Companies, for example, publish to raise their credibility with regulators, patent agents and other stakeholders, and to benchmark the quality of their science

Note:PERCHÈ SI PUBBLICA SE IL SEGRETO RENDE?

Evolution by sexual selection

Humans, too, advertise their sexual fitness. They do it by competing for esteem. Businesspeople, for example, advertise their fitness by making money, not for its own sake but as a route to esteem. Aristotle Onasis said, ‘if women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning’. The evidence that money is actually only a route to esteem has been shown by testing people in psychology laboratories.

Note:COMPETIAMO PER LA STIMA. CONTA PIÙ DEL DENARO

Scientists, therefore, are amongst the people who seek esteem not by money but by creative distinction. This is what Geoffrey Miller, the psychologist who studies sexual selection, wrote about science in his 2000 book The Mating Mind: Science is a set of social institutions for channelling our sexually selected instincts for ideological display . . . The rules award social status for proposing good theories and gathering good data. This explains, of course, why scientists are often poorly paid – they’re not in it for the money.

Note:GLI SCIENZIATI NON FANNO ECCEZIONE

And we are moving to a new world of electronic publication, where papers will be freely available on the web. In that new world readers will no longer pay to read journals: instead, authors will pay to publish. Indeed that world has already arrived in the form of electronic open-access journals such as Public Library of Science Biology.

Note:FREE PUBLICATION

The economics of science publishing, in short, are those of vanity publishing, so if the discipline we call economics is the study of incentives, then scientific publication cannot be the problem the economists fear, because it is the incentive to do science. Conventional economic thinking is wrong.

Note:SI PUBBLICA PER UNA SANA VANITÀ

Sex and scientific creativity

In more formal language, the human brain evolved to exploit the seductive, competitive and reciprocal rewards of communal living. And in a process of ‘runaway co-evolution’ we humans, both male and female, have invested ever more in creativity.

Note:LA CREATIVITÀ SEDUCE E NON VERRÀ MAI SOTTOPRODOTTA COME SE FOSSE UN BENE PUBBLICO QUALSIASI

WHY DO SCIENTISTS CLUSTER?

Since 1990, when Michael Porter published his Competitive Advantage of Nations, it has been fashionable to talk about clusters, and people have looked to Silicon Valley, Route 128 or to their local science park for miracles of technology. These clusters contain companies, often direct competitors, congregated together. But why should competitor firms cluster?

Note:PERCHÈ I DISTRETTI?

The classic example was the printing press, which emerged in Mainz when Gutenberg integrated four distinct local technologies: the printing of large sheets of cloth by wooden blocks; the printing of playing cards by movable wooden type faces; metal casting (for moulding resilient type faces); and wine presses.

Note:DISTRETO DELLA STAMPA

The nineteenth-century economist Alfred Marshall described the clustering of industrial competitors as providing ‘external economies of scale’. Those external economies might include the sharing of specialist suppliers as well as access to specialist labour, specialist consultants and other industry-particular specialists that no single company could support.

Note:ESTERNALITÀ POSITIVE

New York, for example, developed as a financial centre to serve the needs of a port with good access to the Midwest yet, though modern electronics have rendered the geography redundant, New York remains a financial centre.

Note:NY

Shared knowledge emerges as the key. Surprisingly perhaps, competitor companies share information. In a survey of eleven American steel companies, Eric von Hippel of MIT’s Sloan School of Management found that ten of them regularly swapped proprietary information with their rivals… In an international survey of 102 firms Thomas Allen, also of MIT’s Sloan, found that no fewer than 23 per cent of their important innovations came from swapping information with rivals:In a cross-disciplinary study, Louis Galambos, Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University, and Jeffrey Sturchio, vice president of external affairs, Merck Sharp & Dohme, have shown how pharmaceutical companies – though intense competitors – will also share knowledge…. It was the president of the Western Electronics Manufacturers’ Association in the US who reported that competitors ‘share the problems and experiences they have had.’

Note:CONOSCENZA CONDIVISA TRA COMPETITORI

Companies share knowledge for a number of reasons, but the most important is that those companies that share knowledge will outperform those companies that do not,

Note:COMPETIZIONE TRA GRUPPI E COOPERAZIONE

And we have here, therefore, one explanation for why academic scientists, too, congregate – not to give information away but to trade it. Though researchers compete, they also benefit from trading knowledge with their competitors, because non-sharers get left behind.

Note:NON ALTRUISMO MA MERCATO DELLE IDEE

What really happens at conferences is that people talk to each other, over coffee, lunch and dinner. Conferences are treasured for the private discussions that researchers hold with each other, where they share unpublished and unpublishable (tacit) material with their peers.

Note:L’ORO DELLE CONFERENZE

In his 2007 autobiography How to Avoid Boring People, James Watson, of great DNA fame, advised scientists to ‘stay in close contact with your intellectual competitors’. Otherwise they will be bypassed like Rosalind Franklin (of modest DNA fame)

Note:WATSON

THE DANGERS OF TRADE

When I was a boy I was told that the Third World was poor because it lacked entrepreneurs, yet the Third World pullulates with entrepreneurs. Consider the airports. A traveller at a Third World airport is besieged by entrepreneurs offering a taxi ride into town or a hotel room. But neither the taxi driver nor the hotel room will inspire confidence.

Note:IMPRENDITORI E FIDUCIA

When Professor North and his colleague John Wallis examined the structure of the US economy in 1970 they found that nearly half of US GNP was spent on supervision and coordination – only a small fraction of the US’s expenditure was dedicated to the actual business of manufacture or the supply of services.

Note:APPLICARE E COORDINARE

But quis custodiet ipsos custodes? How we can we trust the supervisors, accountants and lawyers to themselves be honest?

Note:CHI CUSTODISCE I CUSTODI?

Most people, in short, are trustable, not rational, and they honour their contracts. As Rousseau said, it is the law that is written in the heart that counts. Or as Henry Luce, the founder of Time, Fortune and Life magazines, said: ‘Service is what the typical American businessman would do his best to render even if there wasn’t a cop or preacher in sight.’

Note:AFFIDABILI PIÙ CHE RAZIONALI

Mutual honour pays, of course, because it saves on lawyers’ fees and other transaction costs. Rousseau thus confirmed that Hobbes was wrong

Note:ONORE REPUTAZIONE E COSTI DI TRANSAZIONE

Equally, scientists can sustain the necessary trust by which to trade information at conferences. So, where does trust come from?

Note:DA DOVE VIENE LA FIDUCIA

GAME THEORY

The Prisoner’s Dilemma was invented in 1945, and for many years it was believed to ‘prove’ that cooperation was impossible. But in 1984 the political scientist Robert Axelrod showed in his book The Evolution of Cooperation that the lesson of the game changes if people play it more than once.

Note:COOPERAZIONE: IL DILEMMA DEL PRIGIONIERO RIPETUTO

Hobbes had feared that people, being purely selfish, would not cooperate, but game theory shows how even purely selfish people – especially purely selfish people – will learn to act virtuously. As will their children. When successive generations have repeatedly to learn the same lesson, Nature ensures that the behaviour gets internalized as an instinct. So we humans have acquired instincts for guilt, shame, fairness, honour, generosity and the other emotions that facilitate titfor-tat and other optimal game theory tactics.

Note:HOBBES CONTRO LA TEORIA DEI GIOCHI

One of the stongest game theory emotions is trust, and using a technique known as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) it can even be visualized. The anthropologist James Rilling of Emory University, Georgia, showed that when people trust each other they activate particular parts of the brain. In his paper, ‘A Neural Basis for Social Cooperation’, Rilling showed that the brain’s trust centres are located in the recently evolved parts, the parts that define us as higher primates.24 It is trust that makes us human.

Note:FMRI

In his 1990 book The Enterprise of Law: Justice without the State the economist Bruce Benson showed, for example, how the medieval merchants of Europe spontaneously organized their own legal systems.

Note:LEX MERCATALIS

We see, therefore, that there are no free markets, not even in commerce, and that in practice markets are restricted to players whose trustworthy behaviour can be accredited.

Note:AMMISSIONE AL MERCATO

THE CREATION OF THE FIRST INVISIBLE COLLEGE

The scientists who created the Royal Society faced novel problems: how did they know when they had made a discovery? What, indeed, was a discovery? And what exactly was an experiment?

Note:QUANDO UNA SCOPERTA PUÒ DIRSI REALIZZATA?

Boyle, one of the most influential of the founders of the Royal Society, proclaimed that new facts could indeed be established, but – and here he proclaimed a novel philosophy – only as a collegiate activity.

Note:RUOLO DELLA COMUNITÀ

Boyle conceded, therefore, that the evidence of any sole researcher could never be accepted ex cathedra. But, he contended, new facts could be added to the canon of knowledge if a number of persons of ‘unimpeachable’ integrity had ‘witnessed’ the observations that underpinned them.

Note:I PARI

Note Boyle’s legal language: ‘unimpeachable’, ‘witnessed’. Boyle drew on the law for his analogy: Though the testimony of a single witness shall not suffice to prove the accused party guilty of murder; yet the testimony of two witnesses, though but of equal credit . . . shall ordinarily suffice to prove a man guilty The Sceptical Chymist, 1661, I, p. 486

Note:LINGUAGGIO LEGALE

But who was part of the collective? Obviously, only trustworthy people could be admitted, which was why Boyle described his lab as an ‘Elysium . . . a seat of bliss’ across whose ‘threshold’ only few people might pass. From the beginning, therefore, the Royal Society excluded non-scientists (other than aristocrats of the rank of baron and above) from its meetings and from its public experiments. In his 1665 Free Enquiry Boyle wrote that attendance at the Society’s public experiments was not to be extended to: ‘even of the learned amongst logicians, orators, lawyers, arithmeticians &c [because] they are not physiologers [experimentalists].’

Note:AMMISSIONE ALLA SCIENZA

We see here, therefore, that science is not innately a public good: it is innately a discreet one where, in a state of nature, scientists would publish not their methods but only their findings, and sometimes delay the publication even of those. But it was Boyle who realized, in classic game theory mode, that if members of the Society collaborated with each other in publishing their findings openly and including their methods sections, then all the scientists within the Society would do better. And because the Royal Society’s publications were effectively restricted to fellows, the fellows enjoyed an advantage over non-fellows.

Note:BOYLE E I DIRITTI DELL’INIZIATO

SCIENCE IS A CLOSED WORLD

To this day a scientific conference is not open to the general public but only to members of a club, literally. The conferences I attend are those of the Society of Investigative Dermatology, the European Society of Dermatological Research and the Biochemical Society, and access is restricted to members of the appropriate societies, whose membership, like the membership of Pall Mall clubs, is restricted to persons of good repute who, as trustworthy scientists,

Note:AMMISSIONE ALLE CONFERENZE

Science is hierarchical because relatively few scientists matter. Back in 1926 the biomathematician Alfred Lotka had already noted that a mere 6 per cent of researchers account for 50 per cent of all papers and – because quantity and quality go together in science – almost all of the papers that matter.

Note:GERARCHIA DELA SCIENZA

Consider as an analogy the law. Is that a public good? It appears to be. It’s written down, and anyone may access the statutes and the law books. But those statutes and books are impenetrable to nonspecialists, and ‘the person who represents himself in court has a fool for a lawyer

Note:ANALOGIA CON LA LEGGE

SCIENCE IS AN INVISIBLE COLLEGE GOOD

Gregor Mendel (of mendelian genetics) published his great paper ‘Experiments on Plant Hybridization’ in 1866 in The Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brunn, but it was not ‘science’ because no one understood it. Only after 1900, when Mendel’s paper was rediscovered by a scientific community that had finally understood the question Mendel was answering, did it become ‘science’.

Note:MANDEL

Science, therefore, is the collective view of a group of people that their published work is good. In the postmodernist cliché, ‘truth is what we say it is’. And who are ‘we’? ‘We’ are organized in invisible colleges.

Note:SCIENZA E GRUPPO

SCIENCE IS ORGANIZED IN INVISIBLE COLLEGES

Science is a conversation held between researchers who have learned to trust each other and who share similar tacit experiences. Free-riding is not a problem, therefore, because entry to the invisible college is earned only by frequent high-grade publications, so scientists’ apparently ‘free’ access to others’ science is actually paid for in advance.

Note:SCIENZA COME CONVERSAZIONE TRA FIDATI

The economists have yet to model science satisfactorily. The best models we have for science come from the historians and sociologists. So it was Robert Merton, a sociologist, who in his 1942 essay ‘The Normative Structure of Science’ described science with the acronym CUDOS (note how it is pronounced). The letters stand for Communism, Universalism, Disinterestedness and Organized Scepticism, by which Merton meant that scientists share knowledge (communism), that knowledge is judged objectively (universalism), that scientists act in ways that appear selfless and that ideas are tested collectively.

Note:MERTON

The economists describe a class of hybrid good, the club good, which might describe science. Consider a tennis club. That seems to have both private and public aspects. A tennis club is certainly a private good, and people have to pay to join the exclusive group of lithe, bronzed athletes who besport themselves on the courts. But, for actual members of the club, the facilities are ‘public’ (as defined by the economists, namely that members may use the courts at no extra cost, so any game is free to them, and there are lots of courts, so one member’s use of a court does not stop another member using another court; in technical terms non-rivalrous and non-excludable). The tennis club is, therefore, neither a private nor a public good but a hybrid, which the economists call a club good. Science is a bit like that.

Note:CLUB GOOD

What does that mean? It means that any particular area of science is understood by only a few cognoscenti, who trade knowledge for mutual benefit. And the trade is unusual because it is not a simple barter of A for B between two individuals, but, rather, it is more like the pooling of information between peers. Any particular discovery may benefit others more than the discoverer, yet over a period of time, with enough pieces of information being pooled, chance will ensure that the advantages are distributed between all players.

SCIENZA COME CLUB GOOD

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