Privatising knowledge

January 1, 1999

While it is always good news to see new funding provided for research, there is still something not quite right with the government's emphasis on collaboration with business and "the ability to turn scientific discoveries into successful commercial products" as the dominant criteria for allocating such funding and evaluating research outputs ("Science packed off to market", THES, December 18).

Markets may be fine mechanisms for wealth creation up to a point, but knowledge has at its core significant characteristics of a public good that require protection over the longer run.

The overprivatisation of knowledge - whether through the continuing commercialisation of research or through the increasing specification of so-called "intellectual property rights" - can open the way to the diversion, dilution and even corruption of research for short-term profit.

Philip G. Cerny

Professor of international political economy

University of Leeds

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