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John Brown johnb at ihug.co.nz
Wed May 13 18:51:52 EST 1998


In article <6jcj23$4nl9 at news1.alltel.net>, Jerry D. Jones
<URL:mailto:jdjones at alltel.net> wrote:

[snip of Rothamsted request for joint projects in return for release of data]

> Jackie, et. al.,
> 
> Would you or someone explain if the data you have stored in your archive was
> collected using private or public funds? If it was funded privately, I can
> understand your position. However, if it was gathered using public
> (government) money, this is probably the best example of of anti-progress I
> have ever seen. Judging from the language and the URL, you are located in
> the U.K. I would invite all readers to try the various departments of U.S.
> universities to search for information. You will find almost everything
> freely available without any "partnerships" or any other constraints.
> 
> Jerry Jones

As a retired University scientist I am without any real axes to grind on
this issue and can sympathise with both sides of the argument.

In New Zealand, when competitive and user-pays funding of Government
Departments was introduced, it rapidly became clear that formerly free
access to information was one of the first things to go. Such things became
part of the funding sources of the Departments (now Crown Research
Institutes I believe) i.e. if you want info you fund the research, at least in
part, which yields it. 

The sort of ridiculous situation that such accountant dominated mentalities
leads to was well illustrated by a joint research programme I was involved
in at the time all this first came in. The nutrient-culture media for the
species in question could not be released to me lest it inadvertently get,
without payment, to competitive CRIs or industrial horticulturists concerned
with the species. End of my participation, needless to say, but knowing the
prevailing climate of biologists being expected to give freebies I was not
surprised. 

In the years previous I had never seen a lawyer run as fast as when I told
him it would be expensive to test something so that a courtroom "expert"
opinion could be given. Presumably only he was entitled to charge the client
for any sort of help!! On another occasion when asked for an environmental
impact report by engineering consultants and indicating the University scale
of fees I was gratuitously insulted by the remark "That is as much as it
would cost us to get an engineer's report". This sort of thing was always
exacerbated by other biologists who adopted the attitude that anyone was
entitled to an opinion for nothing. I was paid by the university to do
certain tasks and they provided facilities for this. If "their" time was to
be diverted, and their facilities used, then it was only fair that fees
(which went into fundings for any university expenditures of my choice)
should be charged.

On the other hand any research data was published freely without hindrance
and if web sites of the Rothamsted type had then existed they would have
been freely available. The university tried to insist on the right of free
publication whoever funded the work, recognising in general only published
papers as a promotion criterion for staff. This contrasted somewhat with the
ability to raise funds for salaries and other expenditures as became
assessable qualities in CRI staff. 

All the attitudes mentioned above may have altered in the years since I got
out early, in part because of the sort of restrictions that accountant type
criteria were beginning to impose. However, in New Zealand, there are few
signs to me of change as yet, insofar as treatments of the public at large
are concerned. If survival of an institution depends to a large extent on
raising its own finances than the Rothamsted attitude is understandable even
if regrettable. Free exchanges of information will only be fully restored
when fundings and sources are restored to previous levels, if ever (and
remember, very few in the UK or NZ were ever at USA levels).

Jerry Jones, presumably, is in the USA where private enterprise, state
governments and the federal government always had a tough attitude to
providing funds but, when given, were generous to an extent undreamed of in
the UK or little old NZ!!! The only comparable levels, in my view, would be
for medical research here rather than that for most other branches of
science.

Cheers            John Brown
-- 
       ____  _______  ____ 
      / /  |/  / __ \/ __ ) "We are but too sensible that our reasonings
 __  / / /|_/ / /_/ / __  |  about the wonderful and intricate operations 
/ /_/ / /  / / __  / /_/ /   of nature are so full of uncertainty ...."
\____/_/  /_/_/ /_/_____/    Stephen Hales in Vegetable Staticks, 1727 





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