Thursday, March 6, 2014

Analytical Summary: Kleinman (2003) "Owning Science: Intellectual Property and Laboratory Life"

Sorry for the delay on this! 

Since I have to miss class tomorrow, I'll focus my summary of Kleinman's  "Owning Science: Intellectual Property and Laboratory Life" (2003) on the three points then I'll present a few questions. This chapter is one part of Kleimn's larger work Impure Cultures: University Biology and the World of Commerce. 

Brief Summary
Kleinman uses the Handelsman laboratory at University of Wisconsin-Madison and Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) to make a larger critique about how the culture of commodification enters and affects science (as modeled by intellectual property laws). At the heart of his argument is the idea of power.

He uses Lukes' (following Dahl's) definition of power, which is: "A has the power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not do otherwise" (p. 123). In this case, power becomes not just direct exertions, but also the unspoken constraints. This understanding is key to the development of his arguments. As he says at the end, these "deeply entrenched structures -- such as the intellectual property regime -- shape the daily practices of actors" (p. 137)

His article is then structured around the effects of corporate patenting on research tools, traditional critiques of patents in contrast to the Handelsman laboratory's own experience, and the lab's relationship to WARF, Wisconsin's patenting agency. In the end, his piece also works toward the implications of this specific scenario for our larger understanding of the academe.

Three Key Points: 
1. Power is not always what's directly asserted but rather what limits it may impose to a research agenda. In this case, corporate entities obtain power through both their capital and legal resources, which smaller laboratories do not have. This changes their decision making process.
2. Increased corporate involvement in scientific products has limited the original concept of science as a natural flow between scientists, as well as the power balance between commercial organizations and research scientists. Commercialization of scientific resources is limiting access. Societal structures seem to support this change through particular legal interpretations as well as adjusting/accommodating practices in the lab.
3. Universities, internally, also are pressuring university scientists to think more commercially (despite its limited success in the case of WARF). Their perspective is focused on the university's finances rather than the pursuit of science for sciences' sake (for lack of a better phrase).
In sum: university scientists have the least power or control in this new power structure in the university.

Questions (a.ka., a veiled critique) 
1. What are the alternative realities? The potential for a different form of operation? Did this ideal other ever exist?
2. Is it fair to strip the scientists of agency? To explain, though they are saying they don't really think about patents, the argument seems to not adequately address the discrepancy in their perspective (other than subsuming them to the invisible, accepted structure).
3. From the perspective of the scientist, WARF seems restrictive. But why is this organization this way? What might they argue in their defense?
4. Why must scientists have the materials in discussion? What happens if they find creative alternatives or pursue alternate courses of study?
5.  I think we're also ignoring that as Universities become larger, and if they too will act like corporate entities, then power may shift (which Kleinman did touch on in the discussion of the Oxford scientists). What power do Universities have to negotiate against corporations? Most contracts are not set these inflexible documents, rather they are agreements between two entities.

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