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Re: rant on the morality of confidentiality (fwd)

Forwarded message:

> Date: Sat, 10 Jan 1998 20:05:20 -0800
> From: Blanc <[email protected]>
> Subject: Re: rant on the morality of confidentiality 

> Your original post brought up several separate aspects which can be
> considered separately and may not necessarily coexist in the same place at
> the same time:

I'm not shure who the 'Your' is but I'd like to add some comments on these
issues and observations.

> 1)  secrecy

If you don't know something you either can't take advantage of it or else
you have to rediscover it on your own. It is clear that if everyone had to
re-invent the wheel at every step then not much would get done.

> 2)  responsibility for publishing

Nobody has a responsbility to publish. Science is a completely voluntary
pursuit. I would contend personaly that if you don't publish you arent'
doing science but rather mental masturbation (a rather selfish pursuit I

> 3)  working for the government at the expense of unwilling payors

I don't think this is relevant to the issue at all.

> 4)  the motivations of "true scientists"

Who spoke of true scientist? A 3 year old kid poking at a lightening bug on
a warm summer eve is as much a true scientist as a Nobel prize winner working
on cosmology, the reason is that *both* will share it with anyone they can
get to hold still long enough to listen. We have been speaking of the impact
of sharing data on the expansion of scienctific knowledge. The actual logic
is remakably simple. If you don't let others know of your work then others
must recreate it or it gets lost and the consequences of that is that whole
areas of knowledge go unvisited potentialy forever. When *they* share it
*they* get credit for it not you (which may or may not be a motive of the
individual, it certainly has *nothing* to do with actualy doing science
however; it's sorta like why some boy asked you out when you were a kid, they
either wanted in your pants or had a genuine interest in your company, or
perpaps even both. In any case this has nothing to do with the fact that a
date is occurring, it's the mechanism and not the motive that is important).

> 5)  the requirements for the advancement of science

To share ones knowledge with others in such a manner that they may
indipendantly verify the results to demonstrate some general pattern in the
mechanism(s) of the cosmos. Once this is done the next step is to
explore the consequences of this new set of general patterns and what the
new understanding leads to.

> 6)  the need of science for the works of great minds

I don't think science needs great minds as much as it offers a set of
opportunities to apply those talents in a challenging manner that is not
present in many other human pursuits. The relationship is like a moth to a
flame (hopefuly with less drastic consequences than for the moth).

> Initially your argument had to do with secrecy and the need for scientists
> to publish their work so that the scientific community may benefit from it.
>   I can't disagree that if a scientist is working for the public, that they
> should make their work publically available to them, since, after all, they
> are supposedly working for the public benefit.

To jump from sharing your work with others in the scientific community and
equating that community to the public is a bit of a leap. The vast majority
of folks wouldn't have a clue what to do with any particular piece of work,
let alone how to use it to get something else that wasn't known. Most
scientist can't fully apply results from other fields unless they happen to
be a polymath or possess some special insight or ability (such as a savante,
a good example is Gauss' being able to instantly see how to sum the first
100 numbers by pairings). To do science requires a discipline that even many
of those who are trying to do science aren't successful at aquiring.

> But you also said that "a key aspect of SCIENCE is publishing".    I was
> only pointing out that, in the context of those who are working for their
> own purposes and not under the employment of a government agency, some
> scientists are not overly concerned about contributing to this advancement,
> as can be observed by their reluctance to publish (even if they eventually
> do, "under the extreme pressure of friends", for instance).

Then perhaps they aren't doing science. One also has to look at the
motivation of why they aren't publishing. It could be that they don't trust
their results, feel that nobody will understand them because of the esoteric
nature, simple bashfulness gone extreme, or open hostility or asocial
tendencies. This last issue raises a whole range of questions and
conclusions about 'great minds' and their 'quirkiness' and commen bahaviour.

> It may be your conclusion that the advancement of science depends upon
> scientists publishing their works, but the fact is that some great
> scientists, and many others as well, are not as motivated to contribute as
> you think is proper for a "true scientist".

It isn't a question of what I think or some definition of 'true scientist'.
It *is* a consequence of what is required to do science which requires that
the work you do is shared with others so *they* don't have to recreate it
and therefore waste time and effort. Science, by definition, is a
collaborative effort. Consider the Fermat example from Tim May, had Fermat
went ahead and written his proof down *and* it had been found all those
people over the last 200 years would have been able to work on other
problems. What kinds of changes in our technology and as a consequence our
society would have resulted if *that* could have happened. Instead of 2 steps
forward and 1 step back we might be 3 steps forward...

> I think you should distinguish between those scientistis who have joined
> some kind of "scientific community" and have established an obligation to
> share the results of their work with that group, and those scientists who
> are what they are, and do what they do, from motivations unrelated to such
> communities.

I think you should be more consistent in your definition in what science is,
what it requires from its practitioners, and how that distinguishes them
from others. Simply because I slop paint on a canvas doesn't make me a
artist though it does make me a painter. And it is clear that, at least for
this example, the artist *is* a painter. 'A implying B' does *not* imply
'B implying A'.

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