ecommons01: the question of money
”We did it without any funding, without any graduate students, without much of the usual apparatus that science is done with nowadays,” insists biophysicist Roman Stocker in an interview with The Register on the results of his now publicly available research results on cat slurping.
When I was a student representative at the faculty board of Business Law at Lund University I sat through a 15 minute argument on the wage of a 50% corporately sponsored professor who was allegedly using too much of her time at the institution tutoring base level course students. Some members of the board felt that a more adequate use of her time and competence would be tutoring advanced students. But if her time is not bought by the public, what demands can the public actually make regarding its use? What demands can she make as an individual employee? What happens in the mixed financing cases, like the European Union-backed JTIs? Or when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds social development research?
The Economies of the Commons conference organised at De Balie in Amsterdam opened with a talk by Charlotte Hess from Syracuse University about accessibility of public research, knowledge commons and the importance of archiving and structuring of knowledge. Hess doesn’t touch the subject of how research is financed and how that has an impact on the possibilities of opening the research results to the public. No one at the conference except Dmytri Kleiner gets even close to addressing the issue of how money and ownership relates to notions of distributive control and accessibility of information and knowledge.
Publicly funded R&D is perceived as a problem when it doesn’t get converted into private property. Public anti-access of research results is an explicit goal incorporated in Verheugens and Potočniks joint communication on European research institutions from 2007:
One important problem is how to make better use of publicly funded R&D. Compared to North America, the average university in Europe, generates far fewer inventions and patents. /…/ Historically, research institutions were perceived as a source of new ideas.
Many of the ECommons participants presumably don’t want to see a further propertification of the Commons, but they do theorize about how to capitalize on its assumed wealth. ECommons participant Michael Edson presented the Smithsonian Institutions Commons project, an attempt at capitalizing on the value of the commons through creating a commons community online.
The EYE Film Institute project Celluloid Remix as presented by Annelies Termeer seems to be mildly distressed, or considerably less successful than they could be, the heavy bureaucratic hassle involved in acquiring appropriate licenses for creating public accessibility to their huge archives. Licensing is not an unknown problem, but progress is so slow that the issue can’t be addressed enough times.
I take note of the fact that no Swedish universities are participating in the European Commission ProTon project aimed at privatizing the gains of publicly funded research.