Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The problem with public debate

Most people seem to now immediately fall into the Crossfire version of debate. God bless Jon Stewart for his demolition of Crossfire. It really is what's wrong with our culture. Issues are often complex, too complex to be reduced to just two opposing viewpoints. I know liberals and conservatives are both guilty of this, but it really impedes solving real issues. I am dealing with this on the blog wars I have launched myself into on both and . There, the comments tend to always devolve into an unbridgeable divide, whereas I have argued for a moderate approach to gene patenting. While I have suggested at times that innovation and profits can come without strong Intellectual Property regimes, in my book I argue that there is plenty of room for downstream, patentable innovation without granting patents to gene sequences found in nature.

But apparently, for a certain type of person, by suggesting that something in the world cannot or should not be owned, one becomes simply "ill-informed" or the author of a "screed," part of the "anti-patent crowd" or worse. Suddenly, by suggesting that something ought not to be patented, the fact that you later suggest that there will actually be more patents on real inventions as a result matters not. Neither does the recent evidence that innovation and profits can come from open science and open source matter. What seems to matter is the creed of patent, but let us not forget patents are a means, not an end. And the end is innovation. Innovation, and its fruits, are what we want. What can we do to achieve it? Is there only one course, are there alternate models, and can we accept that various means are worthwhile and available? It's much harder to chart the middle course, but sometimes we should try.

I am happy to take the insults, if only someone also occasionally gets the message. The message is this: science can be impeded when patents are granted on naturally-occurring things, like laws of nature, genes, etc. We ought to fund and free up the basic science side, and see the innovations that come out of this. This was the model of the the NSF and NIH in the 50s and 60s, and we have abandoned it, and I believe it has been to our detriment. The US is losing its pre-eminence as a bastion for science and technology, we are losing our best and brightest to nations where there is a better balance between public funding of science and corporate profits and spin-offs. This has worked before, and we can go back.

1 comment:

Eva K. said...

Discouse has devolved from talking to talking points. The idea of hashing out ideas and reaching common ground is lost in culture where sensationalism sells and reason doesn't. People who will not discuss the idea of the benefits of open source knowledge generally seem to have so much invested in ownership that it shakes the very foundation of their conciousness. Your contribution to discourse is essential. The trick will be not to get hopeless about it.