Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Google's misstep with Patents

Google has been in the news a lot recently related patents. Why? Well, I think they've managed their intellectual property in a naive way. Not an incorrect way. Just one that wasn't keeping up with the behavior of competitors and trolls in the market place. To date Google has 782 patents, for a company that has produced as many innovative products as it has, this is not very many. Google has been around for 13 years now, founding in 1998. Comparing Google to Apple, looking at patents filed after 1998, is not a good comparison. Apple has filed and received 2600 patents. Sure they've been busy working on products and had an established market already. The iPod had already come out by then. Regardless, this indicates that Google has made a major misstep in regard to patents.

I fully applaud Google's efforts to minimize the number of patents they own. It's clear from a glance at the patents, they have focused their patents on the ability to search for data as well as data management. They are sorely lacking when it comes to most software. This is most likely why Google has licensing agreements with companies like Intellectual Ventures. To combat the growing web of lawsuits surrounding it's handset manufacturers and developers Google has been on a spree of both purchasing patents (1,000 from IBM and 12,000 with the purchase of Motorola Mobile) and propaganda against software patents.

Motorola will give Google the patent expertise and experience at defending its patent claims as well as a huge number of patents it will need to defend. I believe this will create a great change in the way that Google deals with intellectual property in general. I'm not entirely sure this is a good thing either. Google may take the route of IBM which both patents things specifically so that other companies can't patent them and publishes technologies in obscure journals which can be later used to invalidate patents as a form of prior art. However, Google could easily take the route of Apple. This would be extremely bad in my opinion. The route where Google continues to invest in new technologies but patents everything and then makes it difficult for other companies to use that technology. Google has the innovative capabilities to become a huge patent troll.

I think the only good that would come out of that is if Google went after patent trolls.With open source technologies some of the problems with software patenting does go away. As anything with an open source license is technically released into the public and becomes part of the prior art. Unfortunately, that's also a huge problem with open source. It would be impossible for a patent examiner, who typically has 3 days to approve a patent, to actually find a given software technology which is already being used as open source.

Overall, I think Google is currently attempting to address its misstep with patents. I think that Google will push for patent reform for software patents. I think that with a large enough group of people, including billionaires like Mark Cuban, there could be a significant change in the manner in which software patents are issued. Gaming companies, search engines, and software developers need to work together to address this issue though.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Adoption of a new technology

Based on my previous series we can see how disruptive technologies can impact the economy. What we don't know is how these technologies are selected by the users. This in fact is a matter of great debate. In some cases looking back it's obvious as to why a specific technology won over the other. However, during the standards war, or beginning of a new market, it's unclear which technology will win. We've seen this play out repeatedly over the past few decades. The VHS victory over Betamax is an important case. I also believe that this example can play an important role for any new platform developer.

What happened with VHS and Betamax? They both were created in the 70's (VHS 1976 and Betamax 1975), as a method to record video. Each had a different method and were competing standards. By a standard, i mean a products that achieve a specific result using a type of technology. In this example there are two technologies that achieve almost the exact same end result using incompatible technologies. Which is why we have a standards war. Both products are attempting to capture the same market segment.

About the technologies: Both products were produced by huge companies, JVC for VHS and Sony for Betamax. Betamax had the higher quality, however you had to pay for this quality. The Betamax was smaller than VHS. Betamax was sued by the MPAA in an attempt to prevent people from recording TV programs to watch without buying them. Betamax won.

So why did VHS win over Betamax? Well, in this case it's well known that pornography producers selected VHS over Betamax because of the price difference. It was easier to produce a product at a high enough quality that they could sell.

What does this tell us? As a platform locking in content is extremely important. Since this was the first technology porn could play a huge role, now with several legacy video recording methods and the internet porn's sway on the future standards for video storage is much diminished. In fact during most standards wars they would most likely sit out until the standards are decided.

I believe that Google actually learned from this example. They saw the benefits of content on the platform from the success of the Apple App store and worked to create a viable app store before the release of their initial product. They held contests and ensured that there was a vibrant app development community before the release of anything. While this did nothing to close the gap initially between iOS and Android app stores, it helped give people reason to adopt their product.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Disruptive technologies and long term impacts IV

In yesterdays post (click here for the first in my series) I discussed some of the long term implications mostly related to the software industry. However, these ideas relate to some of my previous blog posts about innovation in that post I talk about long waves and these paradigmatic type technologies. Where we need to be aware that these disruptive technologies can interact with society on a number of different levels. In the case of video game consoles, while a pretty big industry, it's not a big chunk of our overall economic output. Even with in video games, you could argue that different types of coding methods have revolutionized how writing video games occur, so you can make these steps as small as possible, or as large as you can think of like the semiconductor based transistor. The transistor has lead to a huge shift in how our economy works.

The problem with new technologies is that we never know ahead of time what the impact of a disruptive technology will be. For instance, of the renewable energy sources we can't tell which one will have the most long term impact. However, these are all disruptive technologies. If enough solar, wind, wave, and geothermal energy were produced we wouldn't have a need for coal fired plants. This would create a massive shift in our economy. It would destroy a lot of mining companies, would shutter many power plants and put people out of jobs from the mining companies and the power plants. Of course changing from a poisonous energy source that we are rapidly depleting to a fully renewable resource is completely desirable. However, these disruptive technologies will have farther longer term impacts that we think of initially.

These new energy sources may eventually have lower energy costs than we currently experience under the coal/oil/gas regime. However, this extra money is typically spent on other goods. Which should be cheaper as energy costs are reduced. In many industries, the biggest expense is on energy. Reducing that will significantly shift the cost of these products. Unless, of course, the companies keep the higher prices to keep up profits. These lower costs should make it easier for new companies to enter with a lower price point which will keep innovation moving forward.

There difficulties with adopting new technologies. There are a lot of socio economic reasons to minimize the adoption of a disruptive technology. In my next blog I'll discuss some different theories of how new technologies are adopted.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Disruptive technologies and long term impacts III

As I discussed yesterday, disruptive technology's impact can be mitigated by extensive networks. So how do these networks form? Well, they can be formed by movement of employees, which can lead to an exchange of tacit knowledge as well as increasing the likelihood for a collaboration. For instance, my roommate's employer has asked if his former professor would like to collaborate with them. This would lead to a direct knowledge flow from a large university in the US to a public-private research organization in the NL which would then diffuse to that organization's partners. These networks can help reduce uncertainty through an ability to acquire additional skills sets which are not currently possessed within an organization.

The networks can be built through previous collaborations, suggests of a previous intermediary organization, such as a publisher in the video game sense. Or there could be other forms of collaboration such as licensing technologies like the Quake/Unreal engines in video games. This allows for a full knowledge transfer of technology from one organization to another through formal methods. However, the reason for adopting one technology over the other could come down to a single employee which used to use one or the other technology at a previous job.

Now, how do these impact long term innovations and economic growth? I haven't talked about that at all. It's not exactly straight forward. In some ways, as you can see from the network diagrams yesterday, these disruptive technologies have clearly lead to an explosion of growth within the video game industry. This is most likely why it's over a multi-billion dollar a year industry. Extensive networking and collaboration at the beginning of a new generation of technology is good for the console maker and the consumer as it leads to a faster ramp of video games. See the graph below:

So, these networks help expand the options for consumers and lead to growth in the industry. Disruptive technologies are really good for the economy. Otherwise, we'd see a steady decline in prices and demand for products as people will already have them. In the example of video games, there are other drivers forcing the continued evolution of console technology, such as competition with the PC gaming platform, as well as continued expectations of better graphics and better game play. While there are a lot of people that scoff at the consoles, they do drive expectations for better graphics. People get tired of the same visual representation of their football teams. They want to see the graphics improve, the physics engines improve. Basically they need a continued improvement of technology to meet these expectations. These in turn help push the boundaries of PC games as well.

This is a fairly rosy picture of this march forward. There's no concern for intellectual property, any licensing that is being done is obvious. I don't expect this to continue. Which brings us back to the software patenting issue. We all know it's a horrible thing.

Vaan, Mathijs de, "Interfirm Networks and firm performance in the face of technological discontinuities" 2010 Druid conference

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Disruptive technologies and long term impacts II

Yesterday I discussed how disruptive technologies can drive our economy through creating new opportunities. However, it can obviously have some very negative impacts at the firm level. Let's look at consoles again. First, as most of us are aware, there are only three major console manufacturers in existence. There have been a pretty steady number of console makers since the 90's however the players have changed. Sega and Nintendo were the biggest players when I was young, however this shifted to Sony and Nintendo in the mid 90's with the N64 and Playstation. The console makers are only half of it though. Without publishers, like EA, game developers, like Bungee, the gaming industry would die.

The people impacted by the changing in consoles are not just the console makers themselves, but also the publishers and the developers. In fact, it could be argued that the different platforms (consoles and PC) make it as difficult or more difficult for the developers. Some games the console makers want specifically for their console only. This cuts into the potential profits of a game developer. Additionally, there are difficulties of learning how to program for the new systems. Not all game developer or publisher is going to get early access to the new console. This makes it very difficult for them to actually compete with other developers, which do.

In a pretty cool paper (Vaan, 2010) that looks into the survival rate of developers and publishers after a disruptive change, they investigate the role of a networks. Below is a time series of network changes. Which show that the closer you are to the center of the network increases survival rate.

Network of video game developers (Vaan, 2010)
These networks are important outside of the video game industry as well. In my next blog I'll go into more details about the importance of networks in surviving new technologies.

Vaan, Mathijs de, "Interfirm Networks and firm performance in the face of technological discontinuities" 2010 Druid conference

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Disruptive technologies and long term impacts

So what is  disruptive technology first of all? It's any technology to causes a shift from a position of knowledge to a position of ignorance within the knowledge production community. That's not exactly clear. No it isn't. It's difficult to define disruptive technologies in a manner like this. However, we all have used disruptive technologies. In the music industry there have been a large number of disruptive technologies. One is as simple as sheet music. Another is the Gramophone and vinyl records (and later turntables and receivers), then 8 tracks, cassettes, CDs, and then finally MP3s. Each of these technologies impacted society in a greatly unpredictable manner. The gramophone and records gave greater access to an amazing array of music to a wider audience. It created an entirely new market, new technologies were created to improve sound quality and increase the production rates. When the 8 track was introduced it had an impact both the home audio and car audio. It gave people access to their own music while driving. You couldn't do that with records. Most of the knowledge that was generated with records and record players was nontransferable to 8 tracks.

What does this mean? Well it means that through disruptive innovations/technologies, we are able to create dynamism within our economy. A disruptive technology can allow for new firms to break an incumbent's grip on a market. For instance, in consoles video games there are disruptive technologies every 5 years or so when each of the big players release a new video game system. Over the 30 some odd years of video games and console systems we've seen a wide range of entrants and exits. NEO GEO, Atari, Sony, Nintendo, Sega, Microsoft are some examples. Microsoft was able to take advantage of a period of disruptive technology introduction during a generation change in the technologies. This allowed Microsoft to come in at nearly a level playing field. While there was a lot of skepticism within the consumer market and within the technology industry, they were able to take advantage of their technology and get enough game producers to sign on to make games for them.

For consumers disruptive technologies lead to a chance to make a break with a previous technology producer. For instance, when new versions of Apple OS X and Windows Vista were released around the same time a consumer has a much easier time switching to a new OS when buying a new computer. If Windows Vista hadn't come out around the time of a purchase then it would be very easy to stay with the previous Windows OS. There's not nearly as much learning required when switching to a new computer with the same OS. However, if you have to learn a new OS, you are free to learn either OS as there are likely similar levels of learning required to actually use that OS.

In my next post I'll discuss how these can disruptive technologies can impact firms in other ways.

My long delay in next post

Sorry everyone. I've been busy with a research project that required a script to run on my computer for 6 days. i wasn't really able to do much of anything on it during that time period. I'll start with another post today.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The different meanings of internet freedom

This week we have seen some incredible riots in London. Interestingly, some of these riots were actually predicted by some of the youths a few weeks back, at the end of the video one of the youths mentions that there will be riots. David Cameron had some choice points about the use of social media, Ars Technica has a good discussion about the different sides of social media. However, it is mostly discussing it in terms of causing the riots as well as leading to the clean up of the cit of London.

I find the reaction that we're seeing on the internet to the usage of Black Berry Messenger and Twitter interesting. These are the same forces that while in affect in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, social media were forces to be praised. However, now that they are being used in England instead they are being vilified. Also, we are seeing pressure from the government to use social media to arrest the members of these gangs.

First, I think what these groups did was horrible. If I was able to I'd try to help the victims of these crimes. However, we need to be aware of the precedence we are setting in the response to this. While there are some differences in the actions, there was looting in Egypt and Tunisia, there are also differences in the situation. The major difference comes from the leaders being elected compared to being despots.

Based on the interviews the Guardian conducted we can see that the youths are unemployed and marginalized. This is similar to what was going on within Tunisia and Egypt. High unemployment and lack things for the kids to do. It's something of a structural issues. Which Cameron acknowledged yesterday in a speech. So some of the reasons are similar between the rioters in London and with the Arab spring.

However, since it is England asking for data from Twitter and BlackBerry, they are much more will to cooperate with the police. I'm not entirely sure this would have happened in any of the countries involved in the Arab Spring. Leverage over Twitter during the Arab Spring could have killed it. Do we pick and choose which riots we support? I think it's clear that we do.

We just need to be aware of the precedence we are setting and that all countries around the world are going to emulate the response of the US and England in this riot. There's no reason why China, Iran, North Korea, or any other country shouldn't expect Twitter to comply with them if Twitter complies with England.

The actions that our governments take in this case could have long term implications in regards to internet freedom. It also will indicate if there are two different classes of countries when it comes to the allowable types of internet freedom.

I don't condone what happened, but we need to really understand the repercussions of the actions in wake of these riots.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pseudonymity and Anonymity II

Yesterday I gave an extensive overview of the debate that is ongoing between "Real name" supporters and "Pseudonym/Anonym" supporters. If you haven't read it I suggest you check it out. There are quiet a few different groups of people discussing it, American and International.

Why do I think it's a big deal though? I mentioned yesterday that I made a personal choice to use my real name instead of a pseudonym. This is partially because I'm really bad at coming up with them, but also because I try to speak with my real voice as much as possible. I'm also aware that this is could have some repercussions depending on what I try to do after I graduate. I haven't also been the most supportive of the US government. At  one point when I was debating with a hardcore conservative he pointed this out to me as well.

The problem is that we don't know who has our information. We lose control of it as soon as it's put on the internet. I have no idea who has access to the conversation I'm talking about. I know that Facebook and the people involved in the conversation do, but I don't know if that information got passed onto any sort of governmental body.

This is a huge change from what has happened in the past. We had control over who we gave our information to. It was easy because it had to be face to face or perhaps through a letter. Once that conversation was finished unless notes were taken or it was recorded most of the information would only be remembered only imperfectly by the people involved. This is not the case now. it can be stored and recalled perfectly through the internet and web records.

This permanence is dangerous, as the past will haunt people for decades to come instead of only a few years and only with their friends. However, that is not all. Forcing people to use their real names in all cases causes a chilling affect on activism as governments try to stamp down on it. Twitter will be a more popular communication tool for activists than Google + or facebook because of their pseudonym policies.

Regardless of if we like it or not, Facebook, Twitter, Google + and other social networking sites have become our public forums. We don't have a town square to meet and discuss life. We don't have the community unity that once used to pervade life so we use the tools that we have. However, all of these new meeting places are controlled by corporations that are required to give data to the US government and other governments as well. The ability to protect your identity from the government, other organizations and from people you don't want to have find you is important. It allows people to be honest and investigate different parts of themselves or try to fight to bring down repressive regimes.

Pseudonyms are part of the internet's social norms, a method to protect free speech and to protect yourself. They are very important and we need to fight to keep them. The US government should be seeking to protect our ability to have pseudonyms and not fighting against them. The State Department claims they support internet freedom. Supporting pseudonyms and the ability to be anonymous on the internet is the best way to do so.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pseudonymity and Anonymity

There are so many different things going on right now that I don't even know where to start. There's tons going on with patents, software patents and copyright, there's been many things going on with internet freedom and Anonymity/Pseudonymity that I'm not sure where to even start. However, you have to start somewhere. So I'll start with this: Randi Zuckerberg said pseudonyms should go away. What's the big deal with that?

Well, Google and Facebook both require real names on their website. There are a few links that have commented on why this is a big deal. Tom from Myspace thinks it's a bad idea, he has a friend that is an expert in social media privacy policies, Danah Boyd, and she claims that forcing real names is an abuse of power, Tech Dirt agrees withBoyd's assessment indicating that there's a great amount of danger in moving away from pseudonyms. The Atlantic also notes how different with normal speech tying all actions to a single person online has become.

One of the common reasons for banning pseudonyms, which Zuckerberg argues, is that it changes online behavior. It basically forces users to comply with offline social norms. Norms that the person may actually be attempting to escape for whatever reason. Boyd also argues that Google + originally had a cultural norm without "Real names." She pulls in Lessig's Code book that I've mentioned on here a few times to support her claim. It's a really important point she's making. Cultural norms are established by early adopters. The early adopters of Google + didn't go with real names. They liked their nicknames.

While Zuckerberg claims that it's the users fault and their pseudonyms that cause the problem, others claim that the person who owns the website needs to control this. Basically by creating cultural norms that prohibit the ability to be an asshole/troll online. So when my friend bpost over at KBMOD talks about avoiding feeding the trolls, he's either reinforcing or preventing trolling behavior. A set stance by the moderators of KBMOD should be established to control trolling behavior.

De Spiegel notes that the actions of governments and corporations amount to a war on anonymity on the web.
Which has lead to the arrest of many members of Anonymous and other hacking groups like that. This war has a few benefits like the recent ring of 72 child pornographers that were caught. Unfortunately for most users the days of freedom to untag your photos may be passed. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have developed off the shelf products to analysis people freely from pictures pulled from facebook. To me, this is really scary, as we have no control over the privacy settings of our friends. If I'm drinking a tasty beer in a picture it could have employment ramifications. Two years ago a teacher was fired for having pictures of beer while in Europe. This is one example there are many others. While, third parties will likely create applications to determine who is whom in a given facebook picture, Germany is suing facebook over their ability to do say, and are saying it's illegal.

So, what's all of this mean? There's been a lot of people talking about this and why should people care? Well, personally I have made a choice to use my real name. Well, it's still a nickname, but I made a choice to do that. However, since I was aware of the choice when I set my handle as my last name I am conscience of what I should and should not say on the public record online. The first three Google searches for "Kapsar" are for me. Sadly, none of them is for my blog. Thus my online activity easily follows me.

That being said, I fully support the right and the ability of people to use any different name or no name online. It's the right thing to do morally, and for freedom of speech.

In my next post I'll discuss some of the speech issues a little bit more. Many of the people I've linked too have commented on these issues as well.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ethics in Science III

I've been doing a series on Ethics in science, part one, part two, because there's been a lot of public issues in the UK about the behavior of scientists. Any suggestions, or laws put into affect would have far reaching impacts. As any scientist in the UK would be required to follow them and any scientist that wishes to publish in a journal headquartered there. I believe Nature is. Nature is THE journal to get published in.

There are some different suggestions on what should be done, including ethics review boards and independent verification of results. The UK's investigation of fraud led to this result:
In the same way that there is an external regulator overseeing health and safety, we consider that there should be an external regulator overseeing research integrity," says the committee's report. "We recommend that the government set out proposals on the scope and powers of such a regulator and consult with the research community and other relevant parties to develop them.
I understand what they are going for here. They want to prevent another vaccine debacle or prevent another cold fusion lie. I think they also plan to prevent another "Climate gate." While these are noble causes, I can't help but fear that politics will get involved in this process. If a scientist is found of committing true fraud their career is over. There just isn't the right incentives to commit fraud in MOST sciences. Yes, it happens, but it's more likely to be a mistake than true fraud. Which is something that peer review might catch. However, even this is difficult without the initial data set, or recordings of how the experiment was carried out. Scientists are pretty brutal when going through the peer review process. They question everything and you have to have a satisfactory answer to all their questions if you want the results to be published. The true best way to improve scientific debate is to provide incentives to publish articles that have debunked previous research. This will fix more problems than a regulatory board for most of the sciences.

However, then we come to medical sciences. Here there are much greater incentives to commit fraud or intentionally mislead. Why? Well, for a blockbuster drug they can sell Billions in revenue a year. If a drug company thinks that they have a blockbuster on their hands they will try to get it to market sooner. In most cases they have patent protection for at most 10 to 15 years. But you've said patents are for 20 years. That's true, however, it typically takes drug companies 10 years to get a drug to market. After the last ten years they are able to request a 5 year extension.

Why is the system set up like this? Well, the drug companies test a lot of different drugs and not all of them can be blockbuster drugs. A lot of them don't make it through the rigorous testing process either. The drug companies have to pay for all of that as well as make a profit. So, they charge a lot for these blockbuster drugs. They actually do have some different prices to try to help the poor out as well though.

So, in clinical trails there is more incentive to commit fraud or with hold important results. What can be done about it? Well Bernie Sanders (US Senator) has proposed a prize competition for developing different kinds of drugs, which as a stipulation of getting the prize the US government would own the patent. The government would license the patent out so drugs could be cheaper. However, this prize would have to be huge which would again provide more incentives to defraud the government. It would have to be in the billions to allow for the drug companies to recoup their expenses. It could force much stronger restrictions and oversight on the drug trials though. Which could reduce the ability to commit fraud. The prize committee could potentially be made up of scientists that are part of the NIH (National Institute of Health) which would do the data analysis for each of the "Blockbuster" trials thus forcing impartiality into clinical trials.

This could work. Additionally there could be sanctions put on the fraudulent authors, where they are unable to publish for a year, at any level. Where they lose their grants, or are unable to hire new graduate students until they show they have been reformed. This would certainly kill their career. However, this should happen.

Finally, I think that scientists should be required to add any conflicts of interest in the publications as well as sources of funding. In many cases this already happens as the funding agencies require it, however making it an explicit part of the publication process will make it more transparent. Transparency is vital to science.

Science isn't perfect, but it's our best tool for understanding the world around it. Committing fraud on the scientific community and the world as a whole is a horrible crime and should be treated as such.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ethics in Science II

Yesterday I discussed some of the ethical concerns within the Medical science field. This case most likely has the most frequent cases of fraud and unethical behavior. Why? Because there's a ton of money involved. Clinical trials relate to drugs, which is a multibillion dollar industry. Additionally, there is no requirement by the National Institute of Health to list any potential conflicts of interest. According to Nature there was a plan in the works to require this. However, it got scuttled. In business people go to jail for these types of things.

However, medical science is not the only place where fraud happens. As this ethic blog notes there are a lot of several different kinds of fraud. Some are intentional, others are less intentional. The biggest problem is intentional fraud. Where the author makes up some result. There are two pretty big examples of this. The first is the fake human clone from South Korea by a scientists named Dr. Hwang Woo Suk. This  guy was rather quickly outed as a fraud. However, this wasn't until there was a HUGE debate in the mainstream media about the ethics of cloning human stem cells. This helped push the US and much of Europe to ban cloning of human embryos.

The second most famous case of fraud is the case of cold fusion. What is cold fusion though, why would people want to make claims of making that happen? Well, fusion is what the sun does, if we could manage to do that on earth without burning ourselves up that would be pretty awesome. Basically, as the PopSci article states, is that with fusion you get more energy than what you put into it. It basically would solve all world energy problems. The first person that does it would basically be a savior to the human race. So, it's something that people really want to do. There's debate if it's even possible, it's theoretically possible, but physically possible is still up for debate.

So, accidental fraud comes about from introducing a personal bias or from misinterpreting data. Both of these happen fairly often in science. Why? because we're human, and this is what the scientific method is supposed to eliminate over time. Before publishing results you typically need to have been able to reproduce them and show that there is a trend that is consistent over time for the phenomena that you are studying. This is one of the biggest requirements for science. Which is why in clinical trials there are at least three stages to ensure repeatability of the data.

The other good thing about the scientific method is the fact that other people can take your results and findings and test them. IF the results are different they can be published and used to dispute the previous findings. This happens all the time in regular scientific discourse. In fact there's a great example of this going on right now. This debate has been going on for about a hundred years now or so. Recently a group debunked Gould's bias argument. Basically a guy back in the late 1800's measured a big set of skulls to see if there were any size differences. Stephen Jay-Gould, basically the Richard Dawkins of his day, re-analyzed the data because he felt there was bias in it, and found that there was in fact bias! Well, this recent group actually remeasured the skulls and found out that it was Gould that was biased and that if anything the original sample was more correct.

Science is supposed to be totally objective. As we can see from this discussion it's not, and cannot be. Why? We're human. However, the system works really well as a whole. In my next blog I'll discuss some of the ways we can address issues of fraud other concerns that I've mentioned over the past two days.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ethics in Science

So, right now the UK is in a big uproar about ethics in science. There have been parliamentary hearings which have deeply concerned scientists. In one opinion piece from the guardian the author argues that it's been too long going that the scientific community has been able to function without some sort of regulation. Scientists of course object to this. Because there is a method to the manner in which they work. Many, from the tone at the hearings, feel this is another assault on the scientific community.

However, it maybe that there's some scientific work that is more likely to have fraudulent activity in it. Today the Guardian published an article about scientific ghost writers. Scientific Ghost writers can come in two forms. The first is harmless where the author is really the person that got the funding. Depending on the journal these authors are either the second or very last author on the paper. This is normal, as typically you're working in that person's lab and they are paying you. So they should get some credit for the work done as they may also have had an advising role. The second kind of ghost writing is much worse. These writers were in no way associated with the research and their names are put on the article to give it weight, or if they were the ones supposed to be doing the research and some one else did it. In the Guardian article they are focusing on clinical trials for medicines.

This isn't the only country where fraud, exaggerating claims or ghost writing occurs. Although, the UK has had one of the most famous cases with the retracted article linking MMR vaccine to Autism (meaning it was fraud). This also happens in the US and in many clinical trials. In fact a Greek doctor has made it his mission to unearth clinical trial fraud and really understand what was going on there. The Atlantic had a great write up about this in November of 2010. The doctor  Ioannidis has been making a career out of debunking claims as well as researching the causes of these problems. He argues that the double blind clinical trial isn't giving us the best results we could possibly be getting in medical science. Although, he doesn't offer a huge amount of alternatives. 

The New York Times also ran a story about in September of last 2010 about some of the ethics behind clinical trials. This article discusses how two cousins ended up in the same trial and one cousin was given the treatment and the other was not. It was a story that was really questioning the ethics of the clinical trial, because it was obviously working. However, pushing through these treatments without fulling testing them can be just as dangerous. Granted these people were near the end as it was. The cousin that didn't receive the new treatment died from only getting the chemo.

One the one hand we want to get promising medicine out as fast as possible. However, we want to ensure we are properly testing these medicines to ensure safety. This leads to a great deal of ethical concerns. For promising medicines do we make exceptions? Do we allow fully untested medicine into the wild? These are difficult questions. From an ethical and moral standpoint allowing a patient to die because of a randomized test is very questionable, which is what happened in the case above. However, in some cases rushing through medicines like these end up causing deaths in other manners. In the case of Vioxx this is exactly what happened. In many people it reduced the risk while in others it out right killed them. Where is the balance? I think this is why the UK is pushing for more oversight in these cases.

*Note: my dad, a nurse practitioner pointed out that i was slightly wrong about Vioxx. He's correct. There were more ethical problems than the fact it was a bad drug. Simply the creators of Vioxx hid the fact that it impacted african americans differently than white americans. If Vioxx hadn't done this it wouldn't have been a problem for the drug to stay on the market. If you want to read more about Vioxx there's a chapter in the book Denialism By Michael Specter

In my next blog I'll discuss scientific fraud and ethics in other fields.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Software Patents are the new Copyright

In one of my previous posts I commented that I was seeing a convergence withing copyright activities. I believe that something just as horrible is starting to happen within the software patent world. I think that it will threaten the free software movement as well. We've had patent trolls around for a long time now. Almost since the first patent was created, however, this didn't interact with our daily lives. It was similar to the way that copyright didn't affect you and me on a daily basis. Sure, changes in prices or the removal of a product could affect us, but typically we were able to find a replacement or dealt with the price change. However, I think that this new type of patent troll is more dangerous. Yesterday I saw a post on Ars Technica discussing how Lodsys is going after Apple app developers. Apple isn't happy about this at all, because it threatens to ruin the base they have developed.

I think there are some other problems with this as well. Historically, if a company, that produces software, was looking to go for an IPO or bought by another company there's a thing called due dilligence, where the products are checked for stolen code. This is a big deal, because if I stole the code from Linux or some other open source software, my entire project falls under the GPL, and forces my source code to become open as well. This can create massive headaches for companies.

There is a key difference between what used to happen in the past and what is happening now. Before it was the method of making something happened that mattered. For example if I took a really fast way to sort something from open source how it was sorted was what mattered, not that it sorted. Why does this matter? Well the code is also technically copyrighted and owned by the writer. Now the outcome matters as well. What if some one had a patent on sorting. I've mentioned how crazy this would have been in the past and how this would impact innovation.

Let's say some one decided to put in for a patent on shooting animals at some sort of target through a controlled interface. Once the animal hit the target the animal interacted with the target which changed the user interface to indicate that the change had occurred. I have two games on my phone right now, Angry Birds and Monkey Blaster that would both be impacted by this patent. Both of them have very different goals and methods for shooting an animal at a target and different results once it hits the target. Indeed, the definition of target is different between these two games. However, neither of these developers are going to be looking for patents when they have an idea about what's the next game they want to make.

The patent that is mentioned in the Ars article is absurd. It should never have been approved. There's nothing novel in the development of the in app purchase. That is something that should be obvious from any one in the computer industry. You could easily see the relationship between a website and an application. In fact, I'm sure that there have been cases of this in the past. Another question that remains to be seen is this going to impact services like Steam? The article notes that Lodsys has already gone after EA.

This change in behavior towards apps and software patents is a very bad change. We need to work to address these types of problems. Returning to the requirement of producing a product to have on the market within a certain number of years could help address these problems. However for software this will likely just lead to a crappy product put on the market that no one buys and no one knows about.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Networking and knowledge flows

We hear on a daily basis about how important social networks are, either social or professional. I have to agree, they are extremely important, however, not all of us are actually good at actively engaging in expanding their personal networks. I'm personally terrible at it, although I think this may be a problem for me going forward the next few years. I plan on getting into science and technology policy, if it wasn't pretty clear based on my writings here. So, having a broad network is important. I will need to keep up with technological, scientific and political advances (although in the US regressions may be more apt).

I just finished reading The New Argonauts by AnnaLee Saxenian, which really pointed out the power of networks. It's a pretty rosy interpretation of the benefits of networking for Taiwanese, Chinese and Indian entrepreneurs that had decided to move back home after working in Silicon Valley. It's a much better representation than Thomas Freedman's World is flat, which is just ridiculously overly the top optimistic.

There are a lot of theories about how networks operate and what type of network you want to have. What do you mean type of network? Well, I'm sure you can think of different types of networks that you have. You have close friends that you are around all the time, and then you have co-workers that you interact with in a different manner. Some of them you let into your social network, others you keep within you professional network. Now within those networks they could be structured very differently. At work you could have a lot of contacts in many departments and interact with them to get the best information about how to get a job done or that person is your go to for getting stuff done for you. This was how my network was at when I worked at SAS. I had to have many contacts in different departments. This was different from some of my colleagues  who only worked within a department and didn't have much external exposure. You would have to make an effort to change your network type.

As I mentioned above networking is good for information. This is also the case in the scientific community. Saxenian focuses on technological knowledge flows in her book. She looks at the locations of firms and how they interact with both halves of their network. Two halves? Yep, one in Taiwan and one in Silicon Valley. These Argonauts were bridges between the two regions. This has allowed Taiwan to become a leader in computing because of this.

You are also able to use social networks to identify people. This was an assignment for one of my classes, which had three different class codes. We were given our class network data, from a survey, and we had to attempt to reconstruct our class networks. As you can see below there was some clustering going on, with some people acting as bridges from one part of the network to the next.  The points that bridge the networks are good points for knowledge to flow from one part to the next. These are the people that are always good to have contact with.

Three major clusters roughly correspond to different courses
Further Reading:
Saxenian, A. (2006) The New Argonauts Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts