Monday, November 3, 2008

The market for science

The "republic of science" is the original open source public good, and its origins are traced to Renaissance patronage of science and math, in Paul David's essay in Capitalism and Society, The Historical Origins of 'Open Science': An Essay on Patronage, Reputation and Common Agency Contracting in the Scientific Revolution

The essay is accompanied by a comment by Ken Arrow, who summarizes the issue as follows:
" Scientific activity, like any other, requires resources, in the first instance: human resources usually with considerable alternative value, but also material
resources of an increasingly expensive nature. The typical dissemination of scientific information does not, in general, yield any income; indeed, publication itself is costly and was more so before the invention of printing.
"David concentrates in this paper on the development of scientific activity from the 15th to the 17th centuries, a period clearly of the greatest importance in setting the tone and style of the modern Scientific Revolution. His thesis, amply documented, is that the prestige to patrons, generally rulers, was an important motive for the support of science. They were not unaware of the practical usefulness of scientific discovery in technological development, but the sheer display value was an additional and powerful motive. To achieve this prestige, though, it was necessary to evaluate the qualities of the scientists to be supported. Especially in the case of mathematics, this was beyond the capacity of the rulers or their ministers. An open diffusion of science, then, was needed to permit critical evaluation, as well, indeed, as to display the prestige-granting science. Hence, the gradual emergence of the apparatus and value-system of science: publications, the opportunity for comment and criticism, and, eventually, the emergence of publicly supported academies, such as the Royal Society in England and the Académie des Sciences in France, and of periodicals for the diffusion of ideas."

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