IQsquared: Freedom of Information

Apparently, information just wants to be free. Does it? And do we want to liberate it?

I was hoping Jack Klaff of Intelligence Squared and his panel of experts would be able to give us some insight, but we didn’t seem to get anywhere close to a firm answer. As one speaker, Murad Ahmed (technology correspondent, The Times) tweeted mid-debate –

@muradahmed: Member of the audience at #iq2infofree says she’s confused about what we’re talking about. Oh dear

And, loathe to admit it, I’m sure that’s how many of us felt. The 90min open conversation bounded from research data, to WikiLeaks, to the current state of Libya and Egypt, to freedom of expression, to something about Inuits (I’m sorry, Nicola Triscott – I didn’t really follow, and you spoke so briefly! As the only woman on the panel, I would have liked you to have had more part in the discussion).

As the heated discussion was so varied, I think I’ll stick to what I know best: the availability of scientific research data. It’s notoriously difficult to get hold of, and Daniel Glaser (of the Wellcome Trust) explained why: when a scientist has been slogging away with his research for ten years, and comes up with a nugget of worthwhile info, that scientist would find it pretty galling if another person looked at their data, and used it to produce their own nugget of worthwhile scientific info. They produce a similar glorious breakthrough, but without having to do the time-consuming monkey work.

So what’s the problem here? Resentment between scientists? If scientists shared their research data, they would theoretically save a lot of effort all around and reach valuable conclusions faster. But then they’d have to share the glory – and unfortunately, as Dr Layla McCay put it –

@laylamccay: Of course. Altruism is not the most reliable motivator, and people do want to eat and feed their families…

But let’s not write off all scientists – as I pointed out on Twitter (and several people RTed, so I can only assume they agree), some scientists have a pure love of scientific knowledge, and are not just doing their research for money and glory. But, sadly, they are increasingly few and far between.

I won’t dwell on the subject of info released all over social networking sites (we’ve heard it all before – at one point in the evening, behaviour on Facebook and Twitter was coupled with the words “idiotic” and “naive”), but just to say: common sense, people. As with all things in life, if you don’t want people to know, then DON’T SAY IT.

What do you think? Do you think more information should be made public? Where do we draw the line? An article published in the Lancet in January suggested that it should be a condition of research funding that the research data is made freely available. Do you agree?

Read more about last night’s debate (and listen to it yourself, should you be so inclined!) on the IQsquared website.

You can go to many other IQsquared events around London – see their website for details.

The Dana Centre (where last night’s debate was hosted) is in South Kensington (down the road from the Natural History Museum), and is part of the Science Museum. They run regular talks and other events, most of them free. See their website for further details.

The hashtag from last night’s debate was #iq2infofree – feel free to have a look at what people were saying during the talk.

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2 thoughts on “IQsquared: Freedom of Information

    • I’ve watched them online in the past, but when I saw a FREE debate on at the Dana Centre (which I love) I couldn’t pass up the chance. Thoroughly recommended! 🙂

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