Author Claims Patents Made Industrial Revolution Possible; Then Shows Why He's Wrong

from the wow dept

A bunch of folks have been submitting the story about author William Rosen appearing on The Daily Show hyping his new book about the steam engine, where he claims that the industrial revolution happened because of the ability to “own ideas.”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
William Rosen
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Admittedly, it’s Jon Stewart who tries to summarize/paraphrase Rosen’s thesis by saying:

Jon Stewart: You say that the big difference there was the ‘democritization of inventing.’ This idea that, once people owned the idea of inventing… and I guess this happened in Britain… once the idea that ideas could be yours, and you would own them, that’s what opened the floodgates.

William Rosen: Exactly. Once you actually empower people to get wealthy and famous as inventors, the floodgates are open. And an Oklahoma landrush starts to begin, where everyone’s chasing not land, not 40 acres, but the next new invention. And the steam engine comes along right about that time.

Nice theory. Too bad the actual research has long debunked it. The mistake that Rosen makes here is a simple one that trips up plenty of people: it’s confusing correlation with causation. The problem is that when people have looked at the issue in more detail, they’ve actually discovered that the correlation doesn’t work the way that Rosen and other patent system proponents predict. In fact, it happens the opposite way. That is, greater IP protection trails periods of greater innovation. That is, what happens is that the industrialization period or a period of great innovation happens, and then those who led the way get upset about new competitors and new upstarts, and push for greater protectionist policies to keep the competitors out of the market. In fact, Rosen’s later comments highlight why intellectual property tends to slow down the rate of industrialization, rather than aid it:

William Rosen: Sustained technological innovation is incremental — small improvements. And that was the real magic of the era: all these micro inventions from one-time blacksmiths and carpenters… And that’s why a steam engine could be made to operate a toy in the first century in Alexandria, but a working one… takes a village.

Odd wording choices aside, the problem with patents is that they get in the way of this kind of incremental innovation. Patents are designed to protect the big breakthroughs… and then limit follow-on innovation for the course of the patent. If the big breakthrough is the most important thing, then you can maybe make an argument that patents make sense. But, most innovation is, as Rosen notes, about that incremental improvements, where “it takes a village.” But a patent denies the “village” the opportunity to make those improvements (at least without adding a significant cost) and thus delays innovation.

In fact, this is why research into the history of the steam engine suggested that innovation on the core James Watt invention was limited until after his patents expired.

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Comments on “Author Claims Patents Made Industrial Revolution Possible; Then Shows Why He's Wrong”

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bshock (profile) says:

Re: Oh, I wouldn't be so sure...

Is it absolutely necessary that someone profit from a naked idea?

Ideas are cheap and easy. When the conditions for an idea arise in society, that idea is soon developed by someone — and often by several someones. But most of them don’t do anything about it.

The people who should profit are the ones who accomplish something useful with ideas — innovators rather than inventors. Enough of this crap with lazy parasites getting rich. If you implement an idea, fix the bugs, make it do something that people are willing to buy, then and only then do you deserve to profit.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Oh, I wouldn't be so sure...

Patents may slow down others but they reward the inventors and then the inventors end up with the capital.

Sadly it doesn’t work like that – you see the parasites spend all their effort on manipulating the legal system to cheat the real inventors out of their reward.

The patent system – like all IP law is first an foremost a mechanism that allows a middleman with no creativity of his own to own the products of another’s brain.

Anonymous Coward says:

The other day I saw a documentary on the National Geographic channel (I think it was Britain’s Greatest Inventions or something like that, don’t remember the name very well), where they discussed the history of trains. Very interesting.

According to it, James Watt kept an iron grip on his steam engine invention, pushing every competitor aside, using his patent to maintain an absolute monopoly over it. Thanks to that, the steam engine invention stagnated. The only thing James Watt could pull off with it was building bigger and bigger low pressure steam engines, suitable only for large factories.

It was Richard Trevithick that made the first practical high pressure steam engine, an idea that Watt outright refused to consider, as it was “too dangerous”. James Watt tried to stop him, slapping him with “patent infringement”, but it seems that the lawyer that was sent to stop Trevithick didn’t count on Trevithick being a bit of an ass, and was hung upside down on a well for a few hours (Trevithick didn’t like to be annoyed you see). Never came back as it seems :p.

In any event, Trevithick’s determination and refusal to comply with the patent system produced the first steam powered land vehicle, the Puffing Devil. Not a very successful invention it seems, but it was a start.

This seems to me like a very good example of the patent system halting innovation. A long long time ago, in the 18th century the system was broken. It has remained so until this day.

PS: my memory is kinda fuzzy on some of the details of the story…feel free to correct me if I screwed up somewhere.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

A few months ago, linked from this site or something like it, I started reading a PDF of a free book that explains the very story you are talking about (steam engines and patents, etc). This is the story I tell which gives a good primer on the needs for patent reform.

The final link of the post, at the very end, is to that story.

out_of_the_blue says:

You don't push the timeline back quite far enough.

“those who led the way get upset about new competitors and new upstarts, and push for greater protectionist policies to keep the competitors out of the market” — There was largely an *absence* in America of Inherited Rich, who are always against innovation, and effectively stifled it for around a 1000 years called the Middle Ages.

The benefits of *not* having large numbes of Inherited Rich can hardly be overstated, while the machinations of the current fourth and fifth generations of such to implement a new feudalism here are obvious.

Paul (profile) says:

Re: You don't push the timeline back quite far enough.

Not exactly accurate.

The Middle ages saw a continuation of invention and progress, even if some science and culture took a hit from the fall of Rome.

The idea that the Middle ages were the “dark ages” has by most historians been put aside.

Anonymous Coward says:

(I’ve posted this before but I’ll post it again).

“As of April 1, 2010, PatentFreedom has identified and profiled over 325 distinct NPEs (a number which continues to increase). Since 1985, these NPEs have been involved in litigation with nearly 4,500 different operating companies in over 3,100 actions. And the pace of activity is clearly increasing. Nearly 75% of the suits between these NPEs and operating companies were filed since 2003.”

These are entities that have conducted no R&D and have contributed nothing beyond their ability to restrict others of their rights.

Patents should at least encourage people to invest in their inventions and invest substantial sums of money in new R&D instead of merely monopolizing ideas that others can independently come up with based on existing R&D. but patents don’t serve a noble cause, they only sere the purpose of restricting invention and innovation for personal gain.

Regarding pharmaceuticals

“As of the end of year 2008, the average annual per beneficiary cost spending for Part D, reported by the Department of Health and Human Services, was $1,517 [17], making the total expenditures of the program for 2008 $49.3 (billions).”

I think everyone (except perhaps pharmaceutical corporations of course) would be better off if the government abolished patents, making all drugs far more affordable, and spent that $49.3 billion/year on R&D instead (on top of the billions that the NSF already spends on R&D).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

For info on how much the govt spends

(2008 grants)

Discretionary Grants by
Major Activity Type

Grant Type Awards Dollars

Research 43,624 $20,016,959,903

Top Research Programs
CFDA Program Name OPDIV Awards Dollars

93.855 Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation Research NIH 4,531 $2,406,013,821
93.837 Heart and Vascular Diseases Research NIH 4,187 $2,129,236,406
93.859 Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry Research NIH 4,525 $1,617,313,849

Note that pharmaceutical corporations spend more on marketing and advertising than they do on R&D.

and if pharmaceutical corporations really have a problem funding research and development for drugs why do they apparently have no problems funding their lobbying efforts (not to mention campaign contributions).

Which industry ranks the highest in lobbying funding? You guess it, pharmaceuticals.

Pharmaceuticals/Health Products $1,687,927,909

Look how much they spent in 2007

Total for Pharmaceuticals/Health Products: $225,831,954

and 2008

Total for Pharmaceuticals/Health Products: $237,594,569

and 2009

Total for Pharmaceuticals/Health Products: $267,973,947

All of this money can go to R&D instead. Patents aren’t needed.

Anonymous Coward says:

and seriously, the day that The Daily Show or some other mainstream media outlet televises someone like Mike Masnick to discuss patents and copyrights is the day I take the MSM complex, the pro IP corporations that control it, and their one sided indefensible position even remotely seriously. They are nothing but a laughing joke and their unwillingness to televise someone like MM, and to mostly just televise IP maximists, only exemplifies the indefensible nature of their position.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Or it would be nice if they put Michele Boldrin or David K. Levine on their show.

Put an academician on mainstream media. I’m sick and tired of them putting these industry shills on MSM, Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine would easily smoke these clowns in a debate any day. But our bias MSM knows this and so instead of televising the opinions of academicians like Michele Boldrin or David K. Levine they choose to televise the opinions of industry puppets instead. Pathetic.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Mr. Rosen appears to have a mastery of the subject matter that was treated at a highly superficial level by Messrs.
Levine and Boldrin.

Huh. Talk about totally unsubstantiated statements. First of all, it appears that Rosen has no economics training or background, but comes from the book publishing industry. This doesn’t mean, of course, that he couldn’t have learned economics and studied the actual evidence, but considering that nearly every study we’ve seen claims exactly the opposite of what Rosen claims, and those back it up with data and evidence and Rosen appears to back his thesis up with a story and a weak correlation… well… I’m curious if you would like to actually back up your statement.

The only superficiality I see is from Rosen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Boldrin and Levine’s book started out with their views pertaining to the “steam engine”, including their view (a “correlation” that bordered on “causation”, but did not come out and so state). Some time ago I criticized their discussion as the equivalent of “GIGO”, precisely because its was so devoid of historical substance as to be merely a superficial treatment that made no attempt to explore the historical, social, philosophical, and technological record in detail. Had they done so they would have quickly discovered that what was happening way back when was far more complex and nuanced than they would have a reader believe.

Rosen does not say “patents are good and account for the substantial growth of technological achievement of the period. Quite the contrary. He sees them as a possible factor, but most certainly not the only factor. In fact, if one takes the time to read some of the Q&As appearing on his website, one quickly learns that in many, many regards he views patents with a jaundiced eye, proferring many of the same arguments that regularly appear on this site.

Importantly, his work is not limited to the 18th and 19th centuries. His work extends back in time to AD, and then moves forward to the foregoing centuries in an attempt to use the historical record as a means to inform a reader that things were not as simple as Boldrin and Levine might have their readers believe.

Read the book (I have read extensive excepts using Google Books…and have ordered it in hardback). You will, I believe, quickly discover that the dismissal of his work using all to common sound-bites is a mistake that is far off the mark of what he has written.

Maybe Mr. Rosen is mistaken on some of the history of invention, but it cannot in my view be said that he has utterly and mistakenly failed to merry various, societal factors into a quite interesting work that should give a reader much insight into the history and process of invention. For this he should be appreciated and not dismissed out of hand simply because it may butt up against arguments based almost entirely on economic theory.

Once read and assimilated, then perhaps a meaningful discussion can take place. Until then the discussion here will be little more than knee jerk reactions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You remind me of students who proclaim that reading classroom texts is unnecessary since, after all, you are paying the instructors to teach you.

Enlightenment comes from expending the effort to study an issue from both sides, and then engaging in discussions with others who have done the same.

Enlightenment does not come from expending merely the effort to read blog articles such as this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“Enlightenment comes from expending the effort to study an issue from both sides, and then engaging in discussions with others who have done the same.”

Exactly, and I have yet to see you make any efforts to meaningfully discuss the issue whatsoever. So where are these meaningful discussions? You merely give a summary of his book with no evidence to support your position.

“His work extends back in time to AD, and then moves forward to the foregoing centuries in an attempt to use the historical record as a means to inform a reader that things were not as simple as Boldrin and Levine might have their readers believe.”

Exactly how did Boldrin and Levine do anything to have us believe that things were simpler than they really are? and on exactly does Rosen’s alleged unoversimplification support IP.

The problem here is that you claim enlightenment consists of engaging in discussions and when anyone tries to engage you in a discussion you have nothing substantive to say.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I take it that you have read neither of these books (i.e., Boldrin and Levine and the one by the author noted here).

I have read the former, and am in the process of reading the latter. Maybe you should try this yourself by reading both, at which time you may have sufficient information in hand to think for yourself instead of what appears to be your abrogation of that role to the author of this article.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“at which time you may have sufficient information in hand to think for yourself instead of what appears to be your abrogation of that role to the author of this article.”

Or maybe you can use your alleged ability to think for yourself to discuss the issues beyond merely making irrelevant criticisms against Boldrin and Levine that can be applied to just about every author of every book (ie: doesn’t include every single detail). Show how those criticisms are relevant, what details do they exclude that diminish their arguments?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Or maybe you can use your alleged ability to think for yourself to discuss the issues beyond merely making irrelevant criticisms against Boldrin and Levine that can be applied to just about every author of every book

It’s not worth bothering. This particular AC is an IP lawyer who has been commenting here for a few years, and it’s always the same thing. He will speak condescendingly towards anyone he disagrees with, dismissing them as being “an academic” without ever providing any actual explanation for what he sees as the problem.

And if you challenge him, he will mock you too, but will always use pedantic language such as “Merely for your info,” or something along those lines.

Amusingly, however, he will immediately suck up to industry lawyers whose positions have been thoroughly debunked as beyond the law and beyond ridiculous (and, when he comments on their blogs, he will use his real name). It’s kind of funny if it weren’t so sad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

I also use phrases such as:

You may wish to consider…

If I may invite your attention to…

With all due respect…

Perhaps it would be useful to prepare a list of phrases deemed problematic from your perspective so that I can refrain from using them in the future. It is not my intent to use such phrases as expressions of condescension towards potitions with which I may happen to disagree.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“Enlightenment does not come from expending merely the effort to read blog articles such as this.”

In other words, because your position is indefensible you claim that I have to find support for it elsewhere because you can’t support it.

Well, you claim to have not read the book yet, so perhaps when you’re done reading it maybe you can come back and better defend your position.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“Levine and Boldrin’s discussion anent the development of steam locomotives in England is simplistic to a fault.”

and this isn’t a position?

Any book is an over simplification of matters, no book can capture every detail of everything that ever happened, but how is Levine and Boldrin’s discussions an oversimplification and how does this alleged oversimplification negate the points they make or diminish their position?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

and if you’re not arguing that the details that Levine allegedly leaves out don’t diminish his position then what’s the point of even mentioning that Levine leaves out details? Every book leaves details out. and if you are making that argument then please explain exactly what details are you referring to and how do those details diminish his position.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’m sure Levine and Boldrin would be more than glad to discuss the matter on the show, and if not, I know MM would, but they avoid televising anyone who would seriously discuss the matter and they put a bunch of clown puppets instead. It’s pathetic.

If IP critics, with all the evidence on their side, are so superficial, as you claim, why not put them on the show and allow them to discuss the matter and debate it? It should be so easy for Mr. Rosen to defend his position if you’re right. They won’t because they know that the only superficial ones here are IP maximists and their indefensible position.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

The Real Limiting Factor For Railroads Was Not The Steam Engine

Here is a review I did some years ago about a book dealing with the world’s first common-carrier steam railroad. The actual scarce resource turned out to be the land the tracks ran on, not the technology.

Robert E. Carlson, The Liverpool & Manchester Railway Project, 1821-1831, Augustus M. Kelley Publishers, New York, 1969

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway, built between 1826 and 1830, is described as ‘the first successful steam railroad.’ This implies a somewhat greater degree of novelty than was in fact the case. The L&M was based on a solid foundation of ‘prior art,’ most notably the Stockton and Darlington Railway. The significance of the L&M was that it brought railroads into the forefront of commerce. Instead of being part of the apparatus of a mine, as previous railroads had been, the L&M was a trunk line linking the great manufacturing city of Manchester with the correspondingly great port of Liverpool. Up to the advent of the railroad, the commerce between Liverpool and Manchester was primarily handled by canals, but the potential efficiency of these canals was blunted by the fact that their proprietors had decided on a policy of restricted output and monopoly pricing.

The railroad was, apart from its innate efficiency, an end run around the canal monopoly. Its promoters may be described as the wealthiest and most eminent merchants of Liverpool. In this connection, one significant shortcoming of the book is that Carlson fails to develop linkages between the railroad and the political movement leading to the parliamentary Reform Bill shortly afterwards.

The difficulties of the L&M were less technical than they were political. Even the possible economic difficulties had primarily political dimensions. By its nature, a railroad is legally extraordinary, and must rely on special means of land acquisition. In a remote wilderness, this means special legislative grants of colonial proprietorship, of the sort given to the western American railroads. In settled country, it means the power of eminent domain. The single overwhelming problem of the L&M was the necessity of passing through the lands of two earls (Lords Sefton and Derby) and the lands of the late Duke of Bridgewater, held in trust for the Marquess of Stafford. In the latter case, there was the further complication that the Bridgewater estate was the proprietor of one of the canals which the railroad proposed to supersede.

The abortive 1825 proposal surveyed by George Stephenson followed the logical route in a civil engineer’s terms, that is the one with the minimum grades. The problem with this route was that it went through the Sefton and Derby estates more than strictly necessary. Further, it was presented to parliament in conjunction with an attack on the abuses of the canal monopoly. In short, the route was a frontal assault on the principle of noble privilege.

Stephenson’s survey was flawed, if for no other reason than that his people had been obliged to complete it under physical attack (by objective standards, both earls, Sefton and Derby, probably laid themselves open to charges of ‘incitement to do grievous bodily harm,’ especially in their rousing of the notoriously savage and barbarous coal miners). This represents another point of weakness in Carlson’s treatment. He could have examined Sefton and Derby as men who could still call forth savage hordes, residual descendants of the Scots Highland chiefs at Culloden.

At any rate, Stephenson’s survey, as delivered to parliament, was error-ridden, but at the same time, these errors were not really of a serious description, not so grave as to prevent the building of a railroad. Stephenson had chosen mild grades, and the financial climate was such as to absorb cost overruns easily (L&M shares almost always traded at a comfortable premium). Such errors merely permitted the opposition to portray Stephenson as an incompetent. A good deal of harm was done by the fact that he could not speak the King’s English, but had to express himself in North-Country dialect. After an all-out lobbying campaign on both sides, a committee of the house of commons rejected the bill.

The next year, a new bill was introduced, based on a new route and a new survey conducted under the direction of the new chief engineers George and John Rennie. The new route was accomodationist rather than confrontational. It accepted stiff grades in order to keep away from the great estates. Additional backing was secured in Liverpool by agreeing to bring the railroad into town via an expensive tunnel. Steam locomotives had been subjected to an extensive demonization by propaganda, with emphasis on their satanic elements. so their role was downplayed, and the debate over them postponed to a later date. And the Marquess of Stafford was permitted to buy a fifth share in the railroad at a favorable price. The adjustments were sufficient, and the bill passed. Then George Stephenson was brought back to carry out the new plan, the railroad was then built without significant difficulty, the railroad was put into service– with steam locomotives– and it proceeded to pay for itself handsomely.

In sum, this book is a sound narrative of events from the point of view of the railroad promoters, but it fails to account for the political (and social) opposition which made the railroad an uncertain venture. It would have benefited from a greater sense of social context, of social systems in conflict, etc., which would remove the behavior of the opposition from the merely inexplicable and place it in the humanly tragic. A good analog might be John Prebble’s _Culloden_, with its linkage of military defeat to the destruction of highland society. By analogy, it is possible to ask questions, such as: when the railroad went through, what happened to the miners who, five years before, had smashed Stephenson’s theodolite?

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

A Reading List

In the first place, William Rosen’s website is:

I have not read his book (I had never heard of him a couple of days ago). People seem to compare his work to James Burke’s _Connections_ television program, back in the late 1970’s, which tended to be a fairly extreme form of “Whig History” (“all is for the best, in this best of possible worlds”). William Rosen is a retired book editor, for publishers such as Simon and Schuster, not for an academic publisher.

I’m a lapsed ABD in History (I took Ph.D Comprehensive exams just before 9/11, and then wound up blogging about current events instead of completing my dissertation). At any rate, I was made to read many books on the same subject, in this case, History of Technology, so when I look at such of Rosen’s writing as is available on the web, I see bits and scraps of this author and that author. Rosen himself acknowledges T.S.Ashton and Abbot Payson Usher as major influences.

Here is an assortment of books on the subject which have stood the test of time. The authors do not appear on the Jon Stewart show, for the very good reason that they are mostly dead.


T. S. Ashton, _The Industrial Revolution, 1760-1830_, Oxford University Press, London, 1981, orig. pub. 1948.

Fernand Braudel, _Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800_, 1975, Harper Colophon, New York, tr. Miriam Kochan, 1973, orig. pub. 1967.

Carlo M. Cipolla, _Guns, Sails, and Empires: Technological Innovation and the Early Phases of European Expansion, 1400-1700_, Pantheon Books (Random House), New York, 1965.

L. Sprague de Camp, _The Ancient Engineers_, Ballantine Books, New York, 1974, orig. pub. 1960.

W.O. Henderson, _The Industrial Revolution on the Continent: Germany, France, Russia_, Frank Cass & Co, Ltd., London, 1961.

Paul Mantoux, _The Industrial Revolution in the Eighteenth Century: An Outline of the Beginnings of the Modern Factory System in England_, 1905, revised 1927, tr. Marjorie Vernon, 1928 (Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1962).

Lewis Mumford, _The Myth of the Machine_ (V. 1. _Technics and Human Development_, 1967, V. 2. _The Pentagon of Power_, 1970), Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, New York; _Technics and Civilization_, Harcourt, Brace, and
Company, New York, 1934.

John Ulric Nef, _War and Human Progress: An Essay on the Rise of Industrial Civilization_, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1950; _Cultural Foundations of Industrial Civilization_, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1958.

Arnold Toynbee, [Lectures on] _The Industrial Revolution_, with a preface by Arnold J. Toynbee, Beacon Press, Boston, 1956, orig. pub. 1884.

Abbot Payson Usher, _A History of Mechanical Inventions_, Harvard University Press, 1929, rev. ed. 1954.

Lynn White, Jr., _Medieval Technology and Social Change_, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1962, paperback ed. 1964.


The most important of the lot are probably Paul Mantoux, Lewis Mumford, and Fernand Braudel; and perhaps John Ulric Nef is rather under-appreciated. At any rate, I get a kind of allergic reaction when people suddenly start saying that this new guy holds all truth, or words to that effect.

staff (profile) says:

stop the shilling

“those who led the way get upset about new competitors and new upstarts, and push for greater protectionist policies to keep the competitors out of the market”

Wrong again. Rather, it’s the opposite way such as where your well healed multinational friends are paying fake journalists like you to cover up the fact that they are bribing Congress to change the patent laws to make it harder for small upstarts to get and enforce patents.

Patent reform is a fraud on America. It is patently un-American.
Please see for a different/opposing view on patent reform.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: stop the shilling

“Rather, it’s the opposite way such as where your well healed multinational friends are paying fake journalists like you to cover up the fact that they are bribing Congress to change the patent laws to make it harder for small upstarts to get and enforce patents.”

Do you honestly believe that? Honestly? If you want to be taken seriously then stop making ridiculously silly statements.

The pro-patent lobby, like pharmaceutical corporations, are the ones that contribute tons of money on campaign contributions and Mike doesn’t even claim to be a journalist.

The only fraud here is the fact that the mainstream media would never televise anyone like MM or Michele Boldrin or David K. Levine on their show to discuss the matter because they know that their position is indefensible and these “journalists” would never be able to defend themselves against academicians. What, you don’t want academicians to be able to give their opinions on subject matters that they specialize in, you would rather everyone be brainwashed by some largely ignorant mainstream media journalist who’s knowledge on the subject matter is equivalent to a fifth grader when compared to an academician?

Give me a break, the reason we don’t consult with and take a mainstream media journalist that seriously when it comes to issues of patents and copyrights is the same reason patients consult with a doctor, and not a computer tech, when it comes to issues of medicine and health. MM, Boldrin, and Levine are not journalists, and they don’t claim to be, which is good because if they were I would probably be less inclined to take them as seriously on these matters just like I would be reluctant to take an astronomer seriously when it comes to medical issues involving my health.

The difference between an academic and a journalists is that journalists report the news, news generally involves anomalies like local burglaries and whatnot. Academics analyzes the data, statistics, history, various events and attempt to hold all variables constant except one and determine how that one variable (like patents/copyrights/monopolies etc…) independently affects the rest of the system. Then they attempt to change another variables and determine its systemic effects. Then they try to determine the effects of changing two different variables and how the effects of changing one variable changes under different circumstances. They make hypothesis, change variables, and observe the outcome. They continue to do this until they come up with theories that include the laws of physics and chemistry and the principles of economics (ie: how does a govt imposed monopoly affect the economy). I don’t expect a journalist to really be as keen on these issues as an academician and, as such, I will reasonably consult with an academician and not a journalist.

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