Sharing is meaningless

At least Evolution News isn’t playing the fake surprise game. They acknowledge that the habits of academia are permanent.

Scientific progress is being impeded by a culture in which scientists jealously guard their research instead of sharing it. Keas says the problem seems to have gotten worse in recent years but isn’t a new one. He illustrates with the story of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler.

Brahe, a 16th-century Danish astronomer, sat on his astronomical research for years, rather than sharing it with Johannes Kepler, his assistant. Kepler only got hold of it when Brahe died unexpectedly shortly after a banquet. The rumor began that perhaps Brahe had been poisoned to free up access to his research, data that eventually allowed Kepler to make his revolutionary breakthrough, his three laws of planetary motion that cinched the case for a sun-centered model of the universe.

First, Kepler was Brahe’s assistant. He lived in the observatory while Brahe lived in the neighboring castle. He could have made his own observations, and he was probably in charge of writing and organizing the data.

Second, raw vs processed. When you rely on someone else’s data, even allegedly raw measurements, you’re taking in the original observer’s biases and selections with no way of undoing them. Nobody can observe everything in the universe. Every living thing has a purpose in life, and selects the part of reality that suits its purposes.

Third and most important, active vs passive. Data about nature itself can be gathered by anyone with the appropriate tools and skills. If you want to MAKE science, you need to MAKE the observations yourself. Using your own muscles and senses is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART of scientific activity.

The best way to open up science is to open up the ACTIVITY, not the data. Ruth Moore tells the story of Robert Broom, who worked in South Africa in the 1930s. Broom heard that a nearby quarry was turning up interesting fossils. Instead of trying to lockdown the quarry and bring in his own team, as we would do now, he got to know the manager and the workers, stirred their interest in the enterprise, showed them what to look for and how to handle it, and PAID them when they found something interesting. He created scientists while he was creating knowledge.

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Sharing information is unnecessary, often unwise, and essentially pointless. Science doesn’t advance by moving preselected information from one place to another. Science doesn’t READ what previous scientists WROTE. Science only advances when NEW people decide to LOOK at nature from a NEW angle with NEW biases.



Sharing a unique physical object can also be unwise. DuBois found Java Man and then got tired of endless NASTY theoretical disputations. Nothing has changed since Ockham tried to control this bad habit. DuBois said Fuck This Shit, locked the bones in a safe, and refused to let the Scholastics use them for further insults and trolling. Finally the museums promised to be nice, and gently persuaded DuBois to open the safe.

Even without trolling and trouble, physical specimens USUALLY sit unnoticed for decades, unmaintained and uncatalogued. Occasionally a bit of data or a bone is picked up, properly credited, and used as the foundation for future learning. This ideal situation generally happens within one lab or company, not between competitors.