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Archive for January, 2011

Rethinking Intellectual Property protection from Crooked Timber: ‘Information Feudalism’

January 29, 2011 2 comments

Information Feudalism — Crooked Timber.

Matt Yglesias writes:

A lot of our politics is about symbolism. And symbolically intellectual property represents itself in the contemporary United States as a kind of property—it’s right there in the name. But it’s better thought of as a kind of regulation. Patents and copyrights are modeled, economically, the same as you would model any state-created monopoly.I think the idea that intellectual property is property is too entrenched, at this point, for this to be an effective rhetorical strategy. Furthermore, rhetoric aside, philosophically the real breakthrough would be for people to realize that defending property rights is not tantamount to defending freedom. What strong IP protection generates is not a free market but something more like information feudalism: a market-unfriendly clusterfuck of fiefdoms and inescapably inefficient lord-vassal terms-of-service arrangements that any friend of freedom, in any ordinary sense, ought to look upon with disgust. The reason why libertarian rhetoric – defend property rights! – can underwrite feudalism, of all things, is that a certain sort of libertarianism, i.e. so-called propertarianism, really just plain is a form of feudalism. I’ve made the case at length.

More via link above. A good question is whether or not it is actually worth spending lots of time protecting IP in universities. Academics publish in peer-reviewed journals which are in turn gradually succumbing to open access (OA) trends and policies. OA is a bit of misnomer in the sense that even for the traditional academic journals, access to papers is available for a small fee (papers published in Nature are $32 each, for example); free-access might be a better term than open access. Lots of this work will also end in open access institutional repositories. Academic research is therefore already mostly open and freely available through peer-reviewed publication, and that academic IP in reality mostly comprises expertise, judgement, track record and know-how, not discrete inventions of new products (that might produce those so badly-wanted substantial revenue streams). Should universities spend so much time, money and effort on protecting IP? Maybe, but maybe not…

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From The Economist: The best universities now have worldwide reach (More Hunt Report thoughts)

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

The Economist has a fascinating article on where the World’s leading universities are headed.

The best American universities are nothing like the stereotype of isolated ivory towers. Take the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), founded in 1861 to accelerate the industrialisation of America. Its ties with business are now intimate and global. Companies fund much of its research. Staff and students collaborate with established firms and set up a prodigious number of their own. A study in 2009 by the Kauffman Foundation, a think-tank in Missouri, estimated that MIT alumni had founded 25,800 companies that were still active, employing 3.3m people and generating annual sales of $2 trillion. “It’s a very entrepreneurial culture,” says Susan Hockfield, MIT’s president.

Will the Hunt Report deliver institutions of this type here in Ireland? (Me too).

Atlantic Corridor STEM Conference, which focuses on how science, technology, engineering and maths are taught

January 18, 2011 Leave a comment

The Atlantic Corridor STEM Conference, which focuses on how science, technology, engineering and maths are taught in our schools and colleges, takes place in March with a keynote speaker of international quality. Dr Ben Goldacre M.D. is an author of the Guardian newspaper’s weekly column called Bad Science. His website www.badscience.net is devoted to satirical criticism of scientific inaccuracy, health scares, pseudoscience and quackery. It focuses especially on examples from the mass media, consumer product marketing, problems with the pharmaceutical industry and its relationship to medical journals as well as complementary and alternative medicine in Britain.

In its third year, the conference gives industry professionals such as teachers, lecturers and anyone connected to the education sector the opportunity to examine the quality in the way in which certain subjects are taught in our schools and colleges. It examines how young the children should be when introducing them to STEM subjects as well as methods used to teach. The conference examines alternatives to this and give educators an opportunity to help make a difference to the existing curriculum.

The conference will also host over 100 Transition Year students who will be challenged to give their honest views on the subjects. The students will then deliver the results to those attending the conference.

The conference takes place on March 10th 2011 in the Tullamore Court Hotel. To book your place at this event please visit www.eventelephant.com/atlanticconference2011

Other speakers at the conference include Sarah Baird from the Arizona Centre for STEM Education, Prof. Patrick Cunningham Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government, Dr. Thad Starner Founder and Director of the Contextual Computing Group in Georgia Tech and Paul Carroll from CPL.

The conference is sponsored by Ericsson, the world’s leading telecommunications company and running in parallel to the conference is a primary school science competition and a workshop for secondary school students focussing on their attitudes to science and technology.

Vaccine Study Not Just Bad Science but Fraud, Says the British Medical Journal – The Atlantic

January 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Vaccine Study Not Just Bad Science but Fraud, Says the British Medical Journal – The Atlantic.

Thanks in part to this now-discredited study, a lot of parents refuse to vaccinate their children–and as a result, diseases like pertussis are on the rise.  About thirty people a year now die from this preventable disease in the United States alone, a disproportionate number of them infants too young to vaccinate.

From the British Medical Journal:

In the first part of a special BMJ series, Brian Deer exposes the bogus data behind claims that launched a worldwide scare over the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, and reveals how the appearance of a link with autism was manufactured at a London medical school.

The article is available via the link above.

The Hunt Report is now available – A few comments on centralisation

January 7, 2011 2 comments

The Hunt Report (National Strategy for Higher Education) is now available. There’s been lots of commentary on it: e.g. from Eoin O’Dell, Ferdinand von Prondzynski and various newspapers (see Ninth Level Ireland for an aggregation of many of the stories).

Here, I just want to draw attention to a conflict between a recommendation of the Hunt Report and Bord Snip Nua (Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes). The two reports have very different recommendations for the Higher Education Authority, with Snip recommending abolition, and Hunt recommending beefing it up. This conflict has not attracted any attention that I have noticed yet.

Hunt comments:

‘The multiple role for and expectations of the higher education system will require a strong central driving mechanism. Since the Higher Education Authority Act of 1971, funding and policy advisory responsibility have been vested in the HEA. This responsibility was widened to include the Institute of Technology sector in 2006. The Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes (2009) recommended that the HEA be abolished and its staff and functions be merged back into the Department of Education & Skills.’

Instead, Hunt recommends: ‘The Strategy Group, taking account of the more specialised role involved in future system governance, took the view that the best approach to take is to retain a Higher Education Authority.’

The McCarthy group stated:

D. 3 Merge HEA with D/E&S

There is duplication in the number of staff carrying out administrative supervision work for the third level education institutions across D/E&S and the Higher Education Authority (HEA). There are 44 staff in the D/E&S supervising the third level institutions4. The Special Group is of the view that this staffing level is too high considering that the HEA (staff of 59) already carries out similar activities. The Group considers that the HEA should be merged with the D/E&S to generate efficiencies in staffing and administrative expenditure. The Group envisages savings of €1m and associated staffing reductions of 15.

How will these differing views be brought into register? Central Planning hasn’t worked so well (either in the former USSR or currently in the HSE), for reasons that good Hayekians appreciate: the existence of a widespread  ‘pretence that central government …[can] acquire knowledge which, in fact, is unobtainable’ (via), which can then be used to generate courses of action,  and even to know and predict the future.

It would be have been good to have seen within the Hunt report sunset options for strategies that were palpably not working, as well as a few clear statements of what empirical observations would void the recommendations of the report. (See also this post on how centralisation suppresses cognitive diversity, creates perverse incentives and misallocates resources). Homogenising the third-level system cannot be a good thing; as Ferdinand von Prondzynski comments:

The flaw in this vision is that it doesn’t work. Universities are at their most innovative and creative when they are allowed to pursue their own vision. So for example, the current German government is busily changing the post-War framework of universities as coordinated government agencies and giving them higher levels of strategic autonomy exactly because the ‘agency’ model has made them under-perform in global terms. American universities became the global leaders they now are from the moment that they were allowed to escape from bureaucratic controls. There is no evidence from anywhere that a centralised coordination of institutional strategies creates wider benefits for society. (Emphasis added)

Hunt report: towards a national strategy? (via University Blog)

January 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanks to the Irish Times, we now have a full draft of the Hunt Report (National Strategy for Higher Education) in the public domain. And we know one or two other interesting things. According to the Times, the government's intention was to publish the report next Tuesday (an event perhaps now destined to be something of an anti-climax); but we also know, from the letter by Colin Hunt to the Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister for Educa … Read More

via University Blog

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Battle looms over US science funding – science-in-society – 04 January 2011 – New Scientist

January 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Battle looms over US science funding – science-in-society – 04 January 2011 – New Scientist.

A quote:

As Republicans take control of the US House of Representatives, science could take a hit – despite a new Congressional measure to boost funding.

“There’s going to be a big fight,” says Michael Lubell of the American Physical Society in Washington DC. “The question is who blinks first.”

In one of its last votes before the holidays, Congress passed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. Contained in the act is a resolution to boost science funding over the next three years.

But with budget-minded Republicans now a majority in the House of Representatives, even maintaining science funding at existing levels could be a struggle.