Scientific Achievements Are Nobody’s Intellectual Property

George P. Smith


Abstract

Scientific achievements are essentially intellectual products, virtually none of which can plausibly be attributed to individual scientists or working groups. They emerge unpredictably from overlapping, shifting global communities of scientists in continual communication with one another. Free dissemination of ideas is critical to creativity. Not only does it ensure a perpetual supply of new ideas on which even newer ideas can be built, it also mediates science’s pivotal reward system: acquiring the esteem of the salient community. The enterprise’s material needs are sustained by society, which values science especially as an integral part of education. To treat the fruits of science as “intellectual property” to be awarded to corporations for exclusive commercial exploitation is theft from the people and restraint of trade in the marketplace of ideas.


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