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Saturday, December 27, 2003

Ownership of knowledge

John professes his unease with the ownership of knowledge. I agree that the ownership of knowledge is often abused, as is the stance of "expertise". Self-appointed experts demand our trust in their supposedly superior knowledge, and we have often been let down badly.

We have seen government scientists in their white coats, insisting that it was impossible for humans to be affected by BSE-infected meat, that epidemics from foot-and-mouth to SARS were completely under control, and that the MMR vaccine was completely safe. Once we start to distrust any of these claims, we are liable to distrust all of them equally.

But I am also suspicious of "free" knowledge. Firstly, because a lot of the information that is apparently free comes with hidden strings. Secondly, because if the knowledge is worth something, then someone will try to colonize and control it.

I believe that when we trust (or mistrust) knowledge, we should do this in a context that includes an assesment of the ownership of the knowledge. Owned knowledge may be okay - indeed, knowledge ownership may entail responsible maintenance of a body of knowledge. But that involves some trust as well.

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