a molecular genetics laboratory. The observer is confronted by a dazzling variety of biological materials, texts, software, and instruments. A sequencing machine sits on a bench. Racks of clones fill the freezers. Laboratory notebooks, computer printouts, reprints, and draft manuscripts cover the desks. When our observer asks the scientists where all this stuff came from, he is told different things: some of it was purchased in open markets, some of it was produced locally in the laboratory, and some of it came from colleagues. Regarding the eventual disposition of these items, he finds further variety. Most of them are of little interest to anyone outside the laboratory but a few are of intense interest to people in the world outside. Some of the items will be submitted to scientific journals. Some might be included in patent applications. Some might be shared with colleagues. Some might be kept quietly in the laboratory, no one being told about their existence.
How can one develop a sociological explanation of the traffic patterns of resources in and out of scientific laboratories? How can one explain the process that shapes who gets what, when, and under what kinds of terms and conditions? This formulation of the problem of scientific exchange focuses attention on the particular entities, or resources, that are involved in exchanges—entities that received little notice in early sociological work on scientific exchange. The traditional approach to these problems is rooted in the work of Robert K. Merton (1942), who, in a classic paper published in 1942, laid out a theory of the normative structure of the scientific community. Merton argued that a normative commitment to producing knowledge that becomes the common property of the scientific community is one of the defining characteristics of science. Free and open scientific exchange is important because it allows knowledge claims to be extensively tested by a skeptical scientific community. Only the claims that survive a period of intense scrutiny become scientifically certified, valid knowledge—a form of knowledge that is inherently public and communally held.
Building on Mertonian theory, Warren Hagstrom (1965) developed a gift-exchange model of scientific exchange in which individual scientists contribute their findings to the scientific community and in return can expect to receive various forms of recognition. The gift-exchange perspective has been recently applied to molecular genetics by Katherine W. McCain (1991), and a discussion of her paper provides a useful starting point for our analysis. McCain's argument is based on two distinctions. The first distinction is between research results and research-related information. Research results are what gets published in journals or technical reports and thereby become the communal knowledge of the scientific community. Research-related information is a residual category that includes all kinds of entities that embody information but cannot be published in journals; it includes clones, algorithms, software, and descriptions of techniques that are too detailed to be included in the methods sections of scientific papers.
The second distinction is between public science and private science. During the early stages of research, the products of research are the private property