scientific community simply will have to find other alternatives to distribute its information, and we have some models for that to happen.
The public funder of research has some responsibilities. We talked about the costs of publication, but these costs along with those of collecting and distributing the information are far lower than the costs of the research. When we think of the observational sciences, I include the gathering of meteorological and astronomical data as part of the research, rather than as part of the publication process. This research done for public good is valueless unless the results are distributed. As such, the supporter of the research carries the responsibility to see that there is some mechanism to distribute the information. If the market mechanism does not do it, then the publisher of the information must be some institution or some mechanism supported by the supporter of the research. That small added cost for getting the information out has to be included.
Let us turn now to education. Education has thrived on access to scientific information through fair use for many years, and we will count on that in the future. But there is a problem that I will not discuss in much detail about the use of online and distance education, and the vehicles that are used for this. Are these going to become captured, privatized, and turned into the kinds of instruments that are not available for fair use? This is one of the new problems that education faces. As you know, there are open-source materials available, as well as commercially marketed counterparts.
One effect on education is already apparent, which is the impact of the nondisclosure constraints in some university-industry collaborations. Some of these collaborations have nondisclosure restraints that literally prohibit graduate students from one research group talking to the graduate students in another group about their work. This is an erosion of the environment in which we want our graduate students to be trained. This is a very serious surrender of principles of education to essentially gain a fast buck.
I think it is very disturbing that in much of our discussion even at this symposium, we have talked about universities as though their primary function is turning out commercially useful research. The primary purpose of a university, the primary product of a university, is educated students, and we must never lose sight of that. We must never surrender the mechanisms that produce truly educated students for secondary purposes such as commercially productive research. This is a very important perspective that we have to retain.
Let me go back now to the online education issue, which will lead me to a final perspective. In the case of online education where we have both models, open source and commercial, why not let them compete? Let us do the experiment and see whether the commercial products are the ones that people want to use, or the open-source ones, or both. We may very well have two kinds of users in the long run.
What are the next steps? In education, in scientific data, we are not at a stage where we have a clear-cut course ahead of us; we are going through a period of adaptation. We do not know what will be best. The only sensible thing for us to do is to try the different alternatives and see what works where. The worst thing would be to follow a restrictive course through legislation. The most productive course we could take is a permissive one to allow the different modes of activity to compete with each other. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act in this sense is going in exactly the wrong direction, because it is an inhibiting, rather than a permissive legislation. We need legislation that encourages the competition between different methods and allows us to try different options and see what works where.
I hope that we can recognize and adjust to that before we reach a crisis in which, for example, the scientific community strangles. My own personal hope, optimistic and naive as it may be, is that if we do face these restrictive forms of legislation, then the scientific community will be inventive enough to find its own way to solve its problems and sustain itself independent of those who insist on capturing the real estate and listing databases at the cost of whatever the scientific community might have to pay.