Beyond Open Access And Open Data: Open Science -- And No Patents

from the accelerating-science,-not-making-money dept

Techdirt has been writing about open access and open data in the academic world for some years now. But beyond those important ways of sharing lies a more integrated approach, generally known as open science. Gabriella Coleman has passed on some interesting news from Canada in this field. McGill University's Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), under the leadership of its director, Guy Rouleau, wants to speed up the translation of research into treatments, and thinks that opening up completely is the way to do that, as Science reports:

any work done [at the MNI] will conform to the principles of the "open-science" movement -- all results and data will be made freely available at the time of publication, for example, and the institute will not pursue patents on any of its discoveries. Although some large-scale initiatives like the government-funded Human Genome Project have made all data completely open, MNI will be the first scientific institute to follow that path, Rouleau says.
Forgoing patent licensing revenues is unusual, but Rouleau makes the important point that early-stage science results are not really worth protecting:
"There is a fair amount of patenting by people at the institute, but the outcomes have not been very useful," he says, adding that the institute would rather provide data that others could use to develop patentable medicines. "It comes down to what is the reason for our existence? It's to accelerate science, not to make money."
This obsession with patenting that bedevils research at many academic institutions, and the poor returns it produces, is something that Techdirt has written about before. Eschewing patents, and sharing results, data, software and algorithms is bold enough, but arguably even bolder is the requirement that collaborators from other institutions must do the same:
The insistence that any organization or institute that collaborates with MNI will also have to follow open-science principles for that project could help to spread the approach, says Dan Gezelter, a chemist and open-science advocate at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. "It's a little bit viral. I've never seen that before," he says.
Well, maybe not in a science context, but of course such reciprocity lies at the heart of Richard Stallman's GNU General Public License. The GNU GPL is also something that is often called "viral", but a better name might be evangelical. Let's hope that MNI's project is as successful in spreading the word about open science as the GPL has been in propagating free software.

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Reader Comments (rss)

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 2nd, 2016 @ 5:02am

    I honestly hope this creates and helps to develop medical breakthroughs, but big pharma will definitely steal the research and pass it off as its own ..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), Feb 2nd, 2016 @ 7:16am

    Well, maybe not in a science context, but of course such reciprocity lies at the heart of Richard Stallman's GNU General Public License. The GNU GPL is also something that is often called "viral", but a better name might be evangelical. Let's hope that MNI's project is as successful in spreading the word about open science as the GPL has been in propagating free software.

    ...and that's why this will fail. Genuine reciprocity is voluntary, not coerced. "Viral" is a very good term for the GPL: if you write a program that has 99 features yourself, but you need a GPL library to make the 100th feature work, it "infects" your entire codebase and forces you to GPL the entire thing, essentially claiming all your code for the GPL even though the writer of the code that infected it did nothing to earn it.

    What Stallman's zealotry has been most "effective in propagating" is backlash against Free Software. By the 90s it had already gotten so bad that a bunch of the best and brightest developers around got together and formed the Open Source Initiative that was basically dedicated to the idea that "we're really not all as bad as those weirdos in the FSF." And their more moderate, non-coercive principles have proceeded to make a huge difference in the world since then. Today everyone knows what "open source" means, while the FSF are still essentially ignored and unknown outside of a very specific niche in the programming community.

    And that's a real shame because they've done a lot of good work and come up with a lot of good ideas that deserve to be listened to. If only they hadn't gone with what's basically the worst possible way to implement their ideas, the world would probably be a noticeably better place today for it. I guess this is why we can't have nice things.

    If MNI is trying to consciously imitate them, all I can say is plus ca change...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    MrTroy (profile), Feb 2nd, 2016 @ 4:46pm

    Re:

    I tend to agree with you on all your points except this one:

    "If only they hadn't gone with what's basically the worst possible way to implement their ideas, the world would probably be a noticeably better place today for it."

    What-if can be a fun game to play... I'd suggest that the extreme views of the FSF and some of the debates it got into publicly helped to raise awareness of "open source" in general amongst developers. Without the extra noise, I suspect that open source would have seen slower growth.

    Would we have a better result now though? While I personally would prefer for the FSF to see that the time for its zealotry* has passed and to start actually sharing nicely with the rest of the development community, it doesn't much harm me to either avoid all GPL projects, or treat anything I build with GPL links as purely personal projects that I'll never release.

    I'm happy to offer patches and such to a GPL project, but darned if I'll release any of my work in a license not of my choice.

    As for tools I use but don't look at the code, I don't care in the slightest what license they were developed under. In that sense, BSD and Linux are peas in a pod to me. Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera... whatever works best is best for me.

    * - IMO "zealous" is a better term than "evangelical"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    MrTroy (profile), Feb 2nd, 2016 @ 4:52pm

    Back to the article, it's great to see this kind of public announcement, I hope they can stick to it and deliver good results.

    As for insisting that collaborators "also have to follow open-science principles for that project", that doesn't seem particularly viral to me. It's just the university saying that they are committing to open science, and they won't compromise even in projects requiring collaboration. It doesn't sound like they are pushing anyone else to follow open science, except in projects where they want to work with MNI.

    Unlike GPL, anyone can build on the open results without requiring those derivative results to be open, though no doubt MNI would prefer openness.

    Maybe that's some kind of infectious openness, but it seems to require constant close contact to maintain the "infection".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    tqk (profile), Feb 3rd, 2016 @ 9:35am

    Re:

    ... if you write a program that has 99 features yourself, but you need a GPL library to make the 100th feature work, it "infects" your entire codebase and forces you to GPL the entire thing ...

    That's silly because there's an easy solution. Don't use it. You're more than welcome to be as proprietary as you wish, but it's up to you to figure out how you do that without using my work. That's not my problem. It's yours, caused by you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    MrTroy (profile), Feb 3rd, 2016 @ 4:54pm

    Re: Re:

    I like how you consider that to be a "solution", let alone easy.

    I also like how you consider the alternative to the GPL to be proprietary. At the risk of being stalkerish, and assuming these are the same Mason Wheelers, he seems to prefer the MPL: https://code.google.com/archive/p/turbu/

    Obviously, if there was a proprietary library to perform the required function and it didn't offer a suitable license, then the problem would be exactly the same. However, if the library was offered under a permissive open source license then everybody wins - the program gets the feature it's after, users get the feature quicker and likely with fewer bugs, and the library maintainer is more likely to receive feedback and bug fixes because the library is being used.

    To me, the GPL is just another form of proprietary license... Except it has even worse licensing terms that most other proprietary licenses, if you're in favour of permissive open source licensing - at least with commercial proprietary licenses, you can pay for a suitable license and ship it with your open software in binary form. With the GPL library, you're SOL.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    tqk (profile), Feb 3rd, 2016 @ 5:37pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I like how you consider that to be a "solution", let alone easy.

    Well, it is. It takes no expenditure of effort to not use my stuff. Assuming we don't accept garbage like software patenting, he can design and implement his own feature. He doesn't need mine. Mine would just save him some time and effort on his part.

    I'm really not a Stallman or GPL "fanboi", though I do strongly sympathize with his point of view. I actually prefer the BSD license. I want this stuff to get out there to everyone who can benefit from it, and if that allows a few greedy jerks to lock stuff up by creating a proprietary version of it, so what? We don't have to use it. We haven't been robbed of anything.

    Happily, I'm a geek, not a lawyer, so I only barely understand (or care) about this licensing minutia. I just pretty much despise the hoops that proprietary software forced me to go through long ago. Since giving them the boot, I haven't needed to care about this.
    However, if the library was offered under a permissive open source license then everybody wins ...

    Way back when, I had no problem with MySQL being both free and proprietary at the same time depending on what the user wanted to do with it. Companies like to have a commercial operation behind the tools they use. They get a place to submit bug reports to. I didn't need that. I'm grateful they didn't force onto me features I neither wanted nor needed. The combination created better software in the end, for everybody.
    With the GPL library, you're SOL.

    Are you not aware that they have another license specifically for libraries, just to get around this "viral" stuff?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    MrTroy (profile), Feb 3rd, 2016 @ 6:21pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I'm really not a Stallman or GPL "fanboi", though I do strongly sympathize with his point of view.

    I find his point of view far too extreme to sympathise with. Some of his ideals are good, as are some of his goals, but his methods and opinions are anathaema to me.
    I actually prefer the BSD license. I want this stuff to get out there to everyone who can benefit from it, and if that allows a few greedy jerks to lock stuff up by creating a proprietary version of it, so what? We don't have to use it. We haven't been robbed of anything.

    This is almost exactly my point of view, as well.

    It also reminds me of a common misconception of the GPL - it's a share-alike license, not a share-back license. The originator of the GPL code is not promised anything back by anyone taking, modifying and redistributing their code; the license merely promises the source code to be available to anyone who receives binaries built from that code (oversimplified). You can still lock up modifications to GPL code by never releasing the derived product externally.
    Way back when, I had no problem with MySQL being both free and proprietary at the same time depending on what the user wanted to do with it. Companies like to have a commercial operation behind the tools they use. They get a place to submit bug reports to. I didn't need that. I'm grateful they didn't force onto me features I neither wanted nor needed. The combination created better software in the end, for everybody.

    Dual licensing is good, but not particularly relevant to the discussion - you still have to choose a particular license and abide by the rules of that license. The fact that an alternative license is available doesn't make the GPL license any better.

    It may even be possible that the GPL is actually the best non-commercial license option in this specific case, although it technically does allow for commercial use as long as the source is provided as well.
    With the GPL library, you're SOL.

    Are you not aware that they have another license specifically for libraries, just to get around this "viral" stuff?

    Sure, the LGPL may allow you to distribute in the same way as any other decent proprietary license, but you're still SOL with the GPL library.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    tqk (profile), Feb 3rd, 2016 @ 8:11pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Dual licensing is good, but not particularly relevant to the discussion ...

    Perhaps, if your focus is specifically on the licensing minutia. Mine's not. I'm a geek, as I mentioned. For me it's far more important that it gets out there to those who want to and can benefit from it. Licensing, ptheh, that's for lawyers to dicker about, not people like me.

    RMS originally just wanted to fix a bug in what a printer driver he was using was doing. His printer, or MIT's. The author said no; you can't have it. "Okay, I'll find a way to cut you out of the equation. Happy now?"

    I've always wondered where that guy who wrote that printer driver software is now. Don't care.
    The originator of the GPL code is not promised anything back by anyone taking, modifying and redistributing their code; the license merely promises the source code to be available to anyone who receives binaries built from that code (oversimplified).

    Yeah, that's the Commie side of Stallman for sure. He's always despised the corporate side and only cares about the plebes. Meh, it worked anyway, yeah?
    Sure, the LGPL may allow you to distribute in the same way as any other decent proprietary license, but you're still SOL with the GPL library.

    I guess you missed Linus' tirade about Nvidia. He was bending over backwards to tolerate their crap for years just to try to co-exist, but damn, sooner or later enough becomes enough!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    tqk (profile), Feb 3rd, 2016 @ 8:30pm

    Re:

    Unlike GPL, anyone can build on the open results without requiring those derivative results to be open, though no doubt MNI would prefer openness.

    Didn't we both just admit in another thread that "jerks" can take GPL code (just like the even more free BSD code) and lock it up as long as they keep it internal to their operation and not try to distribute (or sell) it?

    Methinks you're unnecessarily casting aspersions upon GPL which don't really exist. Somebody has a not too well hidden agenda? Just a theory.

    Go ahead and try to defend proprietary. I'm a libertarian/Objectivist (it's complicated), so you'd think I might understand and agree. I don't.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    MrTroy (profile), Feb 3rd, 2016 @ 8:34pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I guess you missed Linus' tirade about Nvidia. He was bending over backwards to tolerate their crap for years just to try to co-exist, but damn, sooner or later enough becomes enough!

    I'm aware there was a weird situation with nvidia drivers in linux for quite a while, involving the drivers only being released under a proprietary license or something... but never delved much into the details.

    I wonder how it would have worked out if the GPL never existed, and the Linux kernel had always been under a BSD-style license. There wouldn't have been any basis for a flare-up over a driver, but would we be in a better or a worse situation over it?

    Put another way, have more companies embraced open source because of restrictive licenses such as GPL, or permissive licenses such as BSD/Apache/Mozilla/Eclipse? Curious thought exercise, I suspect that each person's first answer will swing towards their license of preference.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    MrTroy (profile), Feb 3rd, 2016 @ 9:01pm

    Re: Re:

    In my comment I meant "building on the open results" as publishing research using the open results as a basis. I guess it could also mean developing a product or mechanism using the research and using it internally, but I guess I figured that such use would by definition be allowed by open science, so I wasn't commenting on that specifically.

    Rephrasing, open science sounds more like a BSD license than a GPL license to me.

    Somebody has a not too well hidden agenda?

    I don't try to hide my agenda :-) I don't like GPL. I tolerate its existence, much as I tolerate the existence of evangelical Christianity, radical Islam and telemarketers - their prevalence makes me sad, but other than offering my own point of view I'm not going to do anything about them.

    Go ahead and try to defend proprietary.

    I'm not a huge fan of proprietary either, though it doesn't make me sad like GPL does. Nobody tries to pretend that proprietary is anything but selfish.

    For myself, BSD/MIT is my preferred license, but even better would be for copyright to not apply to code at all. I recognise the creative aspects of programming, but trying to apply copyright to code really doesn't seem to solve any problem that treating the code as a trade secret doesn't solve better. That may sound like being pro-propietary, but I think the quantity of code that would benefit from being a secret more than by being shared is infinitesimal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    tqk (profile), Feb 3rd, 2016 @ 9:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I wonder how it would have worked out if the GPL never existed, and the Linux kernel had always been under a BSD-style license. There wouldn't have been any basis for a flare-up over a driver, but would we be in a better or a worse situation over it?

    I strongly suspect that the monster that is Debian (which is pretty much the basis of most of the best FLOSS today; think Ubuntu and its derivatives) would have gone well out of their way to replace the Linux kernel with a FreeBSD or OpenBSD kernel if he had. Linus had to be a good politician too for it to get to where it is.

    You know, you can run Debian & GPL (userspace) with a BSD kernel, cutting the Linux kernel out of the picture?

    Disclaimer: I've been a Debian officianado ("Debianista") since ca. '95. I love what those dfsg commies did with the stuff! It really works the way it should once molded by Murdock's ideas. Slackware's cool, Redhat's profitable, but look at all the Debian downstream distros out there.
    Put another way, have more companies embraced open source because of restrictive licenses such as GPL, or permissive licenses such as BSD/Apache/Mozilla/Eclipse?

    I agree Apache's BSD-ish license certainly was much better for the web as it was getting built. Linux's GPL licensing likely slowed its adoption.

    Despite that, I know from personal experience that clients have forced themselves kicking and screaming to accept Linux (or FLOSS) was a good idea for them because it was too good of an idea for them to pass up for long. It just made too much sense for them to continue to avoid it, no matter how much they were inclined to avoid it. It was pretty funny to watch. :-)

    I'm talking about seriously big vicious multi-nationals here, btw. They can afford proprietary, easily. Still, they (kicking and screaming!) still dragged themselves to the point that FLOSS was too good to avoid.

    Pretty fun ride. I've enjoyed it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    tqk (profile), Feb 3rd, 2016 @ 10:01pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    We're on the same page. I've no complaint whatsoever about the above, and I can well admit it's easy to either hate or misunderstand GPL. It's complicated.

    I hate pragmatism, but still I can accept I'm being pragmatic about GPL. It worked. What's that say about me? Dunno.

    Have fun!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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