Saturday, March 24, 2007

Livre mas rentável e inovador

Open-Source Software: Who Needs Intellectual Property? de Michele Boldrin e David K. Levine

«The market for open-source software—uncopyrighted, freely reproducible computer programs—is not well understood by economists. A central source of surprise is that innovation can thrive in a market without traditional intellectual property (IP). But as we argued in a 2005 unpublished paper, “Perfectly Competitive Innovation,” as a matter of theory there is no reason to believe that monopoly power through IP is needed for innovation. The market for open-source software is the poster child for this perspective.

First, understand that the market for open-source software is a classic example of a competitive market. It is characterized by the voluntary renunciation of copyright and patent. Buyers are entitled to make their own copies, modified or not, and sell them. “Free software” in this context means “free as in freedom, not free as in beer.” There is also voluntary renunciation of trade secrecy: the original creator publishes the source code—the “blueprint” for producing the software—along with the software itself. Some open-source software has the further requirement that as a condition of use, buyers make their modification available under the same terms. The open-source movement has been called everything from a virus to socialism—so it may or may not be surprising to hear it called a model of a fully competitive market. Yet that is what it is, as much so as the market for wheat. All purchasers of software can compete with the seller and one another, and often they do. (...)

The presence of profitable firms such as Red Hat—not to speak of IBM—in the open-source industry suggests that it is a viable concern and not a charitable or altruistic activity. In their 2004 paper “The Economics of Technology Sharing: Open Source and Beyond,” Josh Lerner and Jean Tirole documented some of the financial benefit to individual developers of contributing to open-source projects. For example, the team of programmers that developed the Apache web server are ranked according to the significance of their contributions and hold other jobs. Work by Il-Horn Hann et al. shows that the salaries the programmers receive in these other jobs are heavily influenced by their rank within the Apache Foundation. In other words, the “expertise” model at Apache is much like that in academia—the programmer writes software in order to receive recognition and financial payment for the expertise he demonstrates through his published product.
Examination of particular individual developers reinforces this point. Torvalds is a multimillionaire, and Bram Cohen, the developer of BitTorrent, recently received $8.75 million in venture capital for his open-source project. These figures and the success of open-source software also teach us something important about the (expected) payments needed to get smart people like Torvalds or Cohen to develop innovative software. It is unlikely that Torvalds originally wrote Linux with the aim of becoming a multimillionaire. Still, he must have hoped for some revenue stream when starting his work. His current wealth is probably higher than he expected. Still it is four orders of magnitude less than that of Bill Gates. Hence, at least in the case of Torvalds, the opportunity cost for writing innovative software is not in the tens of billion of dollars, but just in the millions. This is worth keeping in mind when someone claims that without the huge monopoly rents through IP, innovators would not be innovating. Finally, it is possible to imagine that the open-source industry is not a real industry at all. Perhaps it exists only because it is able to free-ride off the innovations created in the proprietary part of the industry, in which the monopoly power of copyright plays a key role. It is certainly true that Linux is a knock-off of Unix and that OpenOffice Writer is a knock-off of Microsoft Word. But this means little, because practically all software, proprietary or not, is an imitation of some other software. Microsoft Windows is an imitation of the Macintosh, which is an imitation of Smalltalk. Microsoft Word is an imitation of WordPerfect, which is an imitation of WordStar. Microsoft Excel is an imitation of Lotus 1-2-3, which was an imitation of VisiCalc. And so on. (...)

Probably the most innovative program in the last few years is BitTorrent, a program that decentralizes and vastly increases the speed at which very large files can be downloaded off the Internet. It is commercially successful in the sense that 50,000 copies a day are downloaded. It is also sufficiently innovative that it is now being imitated—by Microsoft. BitTorrent, however, is open-source, and according to its website, author Bram Cohen maintains the program for a living.

The final point to emphasize here is that the market for software is not unique. Innovation and competition unprotected by patent and copyright have gone hand in hand in other industries, from financial securities to fashion. The message of open-source software is a message for all industries: IP not needed for innovation here»

Friday, March 23, 2007

Métodos de ensino para as ciências

Physics By Induction: The Genius of Learning Science The Proper Way de Lisa VanDamme

«It seems that science is not taught in the public middle schools today--it has been replaced by... hands on "experiments" which are really pointless diversions. At the high school level, most students are exposed to some science, and most are required to take a physics class. But these physics classes generally suffer from a serious [methodological] problem.

Let me give you an example of this problem, and then I will explain it. The following scenario will probably be familiar to many of you. It is half-way through the semester, and your physics teacher is going to discuss Newton’s Laws. You come into class, sit down, and the teacher begins to write on the board: “These are Newton’s three laws of motion. #1: Every body continues in its state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it. #2:...,” and so on. No explanation is given as to what observations, integrations, or discoveries Newton made in order to arrive at these laws of motion. No account is given of the long history behind Newton’s laws of motion--of the earlier theories that were refuted or were accepted and refined.

This method of teaching is extremely rationalistic. Scientific knowledge is presented as a series of commandments rather than as conclusions that have been reached by a laborious process of observation, experiment, and induction. If taught physics this way, a student’s grasp of the principles is necessarily detached from reality.

This approach to teaching physics also fails to provide students with a real understanding of the scientific method. If they are not exposed to the way in which a great scientist makes observations and then integrates them to arrive at an innovative conclusion, then they will not understand how science is done. Like the writing process, it will seem like an innate gift of born scientists, and they will never understand that they too can learn the process by which new discoveries are made. Because students are not learning the scientific method through real, historical examples of scientific discoveries, they usually have a few classes within the physics course devoted just to the scientific method. But the way this method is taught reflects the same rationalism. Students are told that the first step in the scientific process is to, “Choose a hypothesis.” Not a word is said about the process of observation that should lead you to a hypothesis, so the implication is that the hypothesis must be chosen on a whim or divinely inspired. Again, what they leave out is observation, integration, induction.»
O restante artigo comenta o sucesso da VanDamme Academy.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Relação entre paradigmas científicos

This map was constructed by sorting roughly 800,000 published papers into 776 different scientific paradigms (shown as pale circular nodes) based on how often the papers were cited together by authors of other papers. Links (curved black lines) were made between the paradigms that shared papers, then treated as rubber bands, holding similar paradigms nearer one another when a physical simulation forced every paradigm to repel every other; thus the layout derives directly from the data. Larger paradigms have more papers; node proximity and darker links indicate how many papers are shared between two paradigms. Flowing labels list common words unique to each paradigm, large labels general areas of scientific inquiry.

Research & Node Layout: Kevin Boyack and Dick Klavans (; Data: Thompson ISI; Graphics & Typography: W. Bradford Paley (; Commissioned Katy Börner ( Visit the Information Esthetics site to order a free print.

(via SeedMagazine)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dois errados fazem um... errado

As reacções de António Costa e do governo português ao relatório norte-americano que apresentava, entre outras coisas, indícios de abusos das forças de segurança e tráfico de seres humanos em Portugal foi muito interessante. Não reconhecem legitimidade ao departamento de estado dos EUA para avaliar o respeito pelos direitos humanos noutros países e António Costa vai ainda mais longe, apontando que os EUA têm muito com que se preocupar internamente em termos de direitos humanos. Este tipo de respostas espontâneas acabam sempre por gerar problemas se forem analisadas mais de perto. É que os responsáveis portugueses podiam simplesmente ter dito que 1) não tinham lido o relatório e, portanto, não se iriam pronunciar antecipada e precipitadamente, 2) tinham lido e não concordavam (apontando evidências que contradissessem os resultados da avaliação) ou 3) tinham dado início a um processo de averiguação para apurar se os factos apontados se confirmavam, garantindo que seriam tomadas medidas adequadas se necessário. Em vez disto, preferiram simplesmente desautorizar qualquer relatório externo que contenha dados verídicos apenas porque é proveniente de outro país.

As duas consequências mais evidentes são que, a partir deste momento, ninguém no governo poderá criticar qualquer aparente violação dos direitos humanos noutro país que não Portugal (os EUA, por exemplo), coisa que, aliás, António Costa teve a exímia capacidade intelectual de conseguir fazer exactamente na mesma entrevista em que também afirmava que nenhum país tinha legitimidade para julgar outro. A outra consequência é que se o governo está realmente a falar a sério - se não estiver, a única razão para descredibilizar o dito estudo é ocultar conhecimentos que possua sobre o que realmente se passa com os direitos humanos em Portugal, o que, no mínimo, levanta algumas suspeitas - deixará de poder apresentar-se como defensor internacional dos direitos humanos dado que assim como o Estado português recusa a avaliação externa (afinal de contas, a avaliação da actuação de um governo feita por si próprio é infinitamente mais isenta e fiável...) qualquer outra entidade soberana pode reclamar o mesmo e não reconhecer autoridade a Portugal, ou a outro país, tendo o governo de dizer que está de acordo com essa decisão, o que o obrigaria a ser condescendente com estes crimes mesmo que os seus parceiros em política externa o pressionem - ou seja, que, no fundo, reconhece a si mesmo e aos outros autoridade zero para discutir o que se passa noutros países que não os respectivos. [Não vale a pena ter acessos de ingenuidade, os governos nunca são coerentes com as suas declarações por isso isto não vai acontecer] O panorama dos direitos humanos em Portugal também não sai mais reforçado já que se efectivamente existir algum problema, o governo só iria responder a análises feitas por si próprio (os guardas não precisam de ninguém que os guarde, a lei é para regular a acção do povo) ou de organizações não-governamentais.

Atacar o mensageiro é muito fácil e satisfaz pelo seu conteúdo emocional que, não respondendo à veracidade das premissas envolvidas no assunto, o desvia para outro mais atractivo e simpático mas que é totalmente irrelevante para o facto em causa. Seja qual for a verdadeira razão do governo para rejeitar o relatório de forma tão imediata - populismo nacionalista/antiamericano ou disfarce - tal comportmento não pode implicar nada de bom. Talvez as pessoas que costumam orgulhar-se do papel que Portugal supostamente representa no mundo, em termos da defesa histórica de certos valores civilizacionais (por exemplo, a abolição precoce da pena de morte) encarados como absolutos, devessem considerar seriamente as consequências destas declarações e a aparente inexistência de qualquer reacção visível de contestação.