January 31, 2016

Interestedness in Open Science

About the Relationship between Biohacking and Economy

The ideas of openness of science, sharing of knowledge and data as well as participatory approaches in know- ledge production are embedded in the contemporary capitalist economy and various economical interests. This is important because it has a crucial impact on how openness works out and what the intentions are behind being open. In many common arguments for open access in science the outside of science is neglected and it seems that the whole movement just builds on doing science and knowledge production for its own sake. The case of biohacking shows that the reality of open science movements can be much different. 

While reading the article 'Hacking genomes. The ethics of an open rebel biology' (Delfanti, 2011) I first got the feeling that the biohacking movement is anti-capitalist in two senses. Fist, that it is not interested in making profit and second, that it is kind of a counter-movement against the economization of science. This is because the biohacking movement was portrayed as resistance against corporations, corporate universities and institutions as well as autonomous and independent. But it turned out that biohacking is very pro capitalist, because many arguments were made that openness has positive effects on the chances to realize profit out of knowledge production. In a way, by arguing for a fair competitive market and against monopolies, it is even 'purer' capitalistic than the existing system. Considering what early thinkers of capitalism thought would be a good functioning economic system.
What the rebellion of biohacking does is challenging the unequal access to resources necessary for doing research (including knowledge and data) which hinders innovation and progress. Further it challenges the scientific system in biology, mainly for its institutionalized and centralized knowledge production. What it doesn't do is leaving the need for making profit out of science like other open access and open resource Initiatives.

Merton's Ethos of Science and Biohacking

Delfanti (2011) argues that biohacking can't be understood just with Merton's ethos of science (Universalism, Communalism, Disinterestedness, Organized skepticism), but that it contains new cultural elements. But from what he deliberated on biohackers I got the impression that these new cultural elements contradict at least one of the Mertonian norms, namely disinterestedness. “Disinterestedness is a norm against fraud and against the intrusion of personal interests in scientific activity” (Delfanti, 2011, p.54) If one reason for open access is that the competition on an open market is fair and that everyone has the same chances (like with the American dream), than there is interestedness instead of disinterestedness, because the biohackers personal interest is to compete with others (other biohackers/scientists, not big companies and universities) on a market. This means that their final goal is to make profit. Of course, there are also other personal interests and they should rather not be part of scientific work and also fraudulent behavior remains a problem, but not acknowledging the personal interest to make money out of what someone is doing is problematic to me. This is because it misses a crucial reason of why knowledge production is done.

  • To be clear, I don't want to argue here that scientists, whether open or not, should not make money out of the knowledge they produced. But I do think that scientists should finally stop to found what they do on norms that might have made sense to spell out during WWII, but do not have anything to do with how science works nowadays. Interestedness might be problematic at some point, but it is the reality of scientific knowledge production and the open science movement could take the chance to acknowledge this instead of hiding it behind some norm.

  • This topic is related to a general shift that has been or still is taking place in the scientific system. Namely a shift towards a more or less immediate applicability of the knowledge produced in science and an increased commercialization of science. This is for example described in the concept of 'Mode 2 Science' by Nowotny, Scott and Gibbons, where they show that science is increasingly organized according to societal problems rather than disciplines (trans-disciplinarity).

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