saw the use of electronic distribution not as a new way to provide a different kind of added value, but as a threat to the way that they make their living.
We have to keep one point in mind, which is very difficult for people outside the scientific world to realize. This issue became apparent to me when we were carrying out the Bits of Power study. 2 The study committee consisted of scientists, technologists, economists, and lawyers. During the first two meetings, the scientists and technologists and the lawyers and the economists were making no contact. They were talking as if they were in different worlds, but there was a key step that was a breakthrough. That was the articulation of the realization that for scientists the motivation is not the same as it is for the author of a novel. It is not making money from publication. For the scientist, the primary motivation, the currency if you will, is the propagation of ideas. This is the reason why scientists want to publish the results of their work. The scientist's primary goal is to distribute ideas and influence the thinking of others. If you use that as the basis of a value system, then an economist can slightly recast traditional economics with this other currency.
With this realization, the scientists and the lawyers and the economists on the committee were able to talk to each other in a very productive way. We simply had to find a way to establish the bridge to allow the economists to use their tools with the analog of what they normally use as the basis of evaluation. The financial monetary basis and the idea distribution basis were compatible when there was only one way to distribute the information in a storable, preservable way. In addition, the existing social and legal structure made open access via copyright and its exceptions. Protective, or restrictive, approaches changed that, or at least raised the specter. Those restrictions basically created an incompatibility, or threatened to create an incompatibility, between the way that the scientists operate and the way that the publishers operate. That incompatibility has been very difficult to explain, because people outside the scientific world usually do not understand the motivations of scientists.
The federal agencies that support the research have an interest in maintaining the distribution and archiving of the scientific information. And, of course, when a body, a law, or an activity acts to inhibit the distribution of that scientific information, then it is acting against the interests of the funding agency and acting against the interests of the national goals that justify the funding agency. That inhibition diminishes the public-good value of that information.
In extreme terms, which apply more to the case of the European Union Database Directive than to anything we have enforced in the United States right now, this thwarting of the distribution of information created in the national interest can be thought of as a theft of government property. The privatization, the inhibition of distribution, is in effect stealing from the government and putting into private hands the information that the government created for the purpose of public distribution.
People argue that scientists withhold information. However, the socially acceptable withholding of information in the scientific community is basically to allow scientists to (a) verify and establish the validity of what they are doing and (b) to be able to study, capture, and exploit their own research. So, for example, when crystallographers keep coordinates for one year, it is a way that the researcher with two graduate students in a small department can take the results of his own measurements and study them for that year. If the coordinates were published earlier, then a group of 30 could very easily do the studies much faster and publish in a few weeks something that would take the group of one faculty member and two graduate students several months to do. This is a kind of courtesy within the scientific community that is well accepted. It is a recognition, call it a soft spot or a weakness in the system, in which scientists compete with each other, and it is accepted.
There are some journals that require that data be deposited in publicly available databases. This is counter to that acceptance of the temporary withholding of information. By and large in the scientific community withholding data is really a bad thing socially. Scientists are very much looked down upon or scorned for withholding data. There is an ethic in this community that most of the time works pretty well.
Let us turn to the question of whether there could be a sound stable market for scientific information of the kind that would be captured by the legislation that has been proposed in the United States or by the European Union Database Directive. The value of small bits of scientific information is uncertain. The uncertainty of the
2See National Research Council. 1997. Bits of Power: Issues in Global Access to Scientific Data, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.