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Scientific Collaboration and Collective KnowledgeNew Essays$
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Thomas Boyer-Kassem, Conor Mayo-Wilson, and Michael Weisberg

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190680534

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190680534.001.0001

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Scientific Sharing, Communism, and the Social Contract

Scientific Sharing, Communism, and the Social Contract

(p.3) 1 Scientific Sharing, Communism, and the Social Contract
Scientific Collaboration and Collective Knowledge

Michael Strevens

Oxford University Press

Research programs regularly compete to achieve the same goal, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA or the construction of a TEA laser. The more the competing programs share information, the faster the goal is likely to be reached, to society’s benefit. But the “priority rule”—the scientific norm according to which the first program to reach the goal in question must receive all the credit for the achievement—provides a powerful disincentive for programs to share information. How, then, is the clash between social and individual interest resolved in scientific practice? This chapter investigates what Robert Merton called science’s “communist” norm, which mandates universal sharing of knowledge, and uses mathematical models of discovery to argue that a communist regime may be on the whole advantageous and fair to all parties, and so might be implemented by a social contract that all scientists would be willing to sign.

Keywords:   data sharing, open data, open science, scientific norms, social structure of science, Robert K. Merton, communist norm, communalism, priority rule, scientific reward system

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