Biohackers: The Politics of Open Science
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Biohackers explores fundamental changes occuring in the circulation and ownership of scientific information. Alessandro Delfanti argues that the combination of the ethos of 20th century science, the hacker movement and the free software movement is producing an open science culture which redefines the relationship between researchers, scientific institutions and commercial companies.
Biohackers looks at the emergence of the citizen biology community ‘DIYbio’, the shift to open access by the American biologist Craig Venter and the rebellion of the Italian virologist Ilaria Capua against WHO data-sharing policies.
Delfanti argues that these biologists and many others are involved in a transformation of both life sciences and information systems, using open access tools and claiming independence from both academic and corporate institutions.
flexibility and freedom from bureaucracies and cooperation are elements that belong to a capitalistic mode of organising labour and production, we must rethink any easy commitment to open science as good per se and face its complexity. Thus, biohacking can be an intervention in the marketplace as well as a practice of resistance. The case studies I present are to be considered as part of a shift towards a more open environment for biological research – open meaning both ‘open to more
doing what they have, are and do’ (Bourdieu 2004, p. 63). To highlight a more concrete case, Harman and Dietrich (2008, p. 18) conclude their introduction with a perspective on rebellion not from the epistemological viewpoint, but the socio-economic one: in the twenty-first century, new and heterodox ideas could come from highly original and rebellious minds capable of tweaking biology’s funding system, the online publishing system or the relations between university and industry. In order to
since companies do not often sell equipment, reagents and so on to individuals – mainly for safety and regulatory reasons, but also because, as one amateur biologist says, ‘they do not perceive the possibility of a non-institutional market’, which constitutes a threshold that is hard to overcome. The story of two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines can explain how DIYbio answers this problem. In San Francisco, two young electrical engineers, Tito Jankowski and Josh Perfetto, have developed
I have presented here are not merely open access and open source advocates. My proposal is to consider this remix between the Mertonian ethos of twentieth-century scientists and the ethic of hackers as a new phenomenon that not only embodies elements related to openness and sharing, but is rather a more complex recombination in which other characteristics emerge alongside them: anti-bureaucracy rebellion, extreme informational metaphors, institutional critique, autonomy, independence, a radical
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