Data are difficult.

Scientific data are not only hard to come by, they’re almost as hard to share, mainly because the scientific infrastructure is armpit-deep and sinking fast in the quicksand of patents, copyrights and ever-multiplying licenses. See Peter Murray-Rust, Antony Williams and Egon Willighagen for the latest dust-up over data licensing; I just want to point out this clear-eyed commentary by John Wilbanks:

The public domain is not an “unlicensed commons”. The public domain does not equal the BSD. It is not a licensing option.
It is the natural legal state of data.
It is a damn shame that we no longer think of the public domain as an option that is attractive. It’s a sign of the victory of the content holders that the free licensing movements work against that something without a license — something that is truly free, not just just free “as in” — is somehow thought to be worse. We’ve bought into their games if we allow the public domain to be defined as the BSD. The idea of the public domain has been subjected to continuous erosion thanks to both the big content companies and our own movements, to the point where we think freedom only comes in a contract.
The public domain is not contractually constructed. It just is. It cannot be made more free, only less free. And if we start a culture of licensing and enclosing the public domain (stuff that is actually already free, like the human genome) in the name of “freedom” we’re playing a dangerous game.
There’s a lot more to get at here.

Yes, there is, and you should read the rest of that entry (and keep up with John’s blog) if you’re at all interested. I’ll add just one brief comment: back when John’s current job was first advertised, I considered applying for it — not that I thought I was qualified, but perhaps the SC would want to hire the new director an offsider of some sort. Having had a couple of years to start learning a bit about Open Access and Open Science, I would venture to say that we are all better off with me in the cheerleading section instead of on the field.

3 thoughts on “Data are difficult.

  1. thanks bill. i’ll be in portland for oscon in july if you want to grab a pint and talk in person. data are indeed difficult.

  2. John, definitely pencil me in for a pint while you are in town! I’ll email you closer to the event to work out when/where.
    Do you think there would be any interest in an Open Science BOF session? Maybe not this year, given that registration closes on June 2, but perhaps for 2009?

  3. I’m not so sure, Bill. I think that we need anyone we can get “on the field” as it were.
    Also, if either of you are ever in the Philadelphia area, there are more pints to be distributed.

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