Knowledge is a deadly friend… mankind is… in the hands of fools

The story of Thomas Midgely, described in this article from the New York Times, a long read, is one that very valuably informs, directly, about the hazards of innovation that was applied without much thought, and very often without the ability, to appropriately take into account the consequences of failing to manage its proliferation.

The article does not, however, adequately consider the role of knowledge hoarding (aka intellectual property rights, both patents and copyrights). Actually, hoarding is mentioned as the driver of the money generation that drove two things. The first was the establishment of the industries that provided the two hazardous chemicals, branded Ethyl and Freon. The second was the funding of science and research to deliberately block general awareness of the dangerous consequences that were becoming known, soon after the chemicals were first introduced.

There is an alternative to hoarded knowledge, and it is, in fact, open knowledge, a system of proliferating awareness that encourages continuous learning, and feeding back new discoveries into the application of older ones, based on earlier research and development. Unfortunately, or perhaps unsurprisingly, the present usage of open knowledge systems is largely seen only in digital technologies, and, to a far lesser extent, in publishing.

However, and this is a very positive step, it is protected by a strong body of recognised legal frameworks, termed very generally as Creative Commons, and more specifically as Open Licences.

Businesses are being grown, both with collective and private ownership, depending on the legal frameworks available in different countries, whose operating model is built in the field of creative commons.

The article you have just read is also published under creative commons licensing, and the publishing tool, Discourse, being used to display and discuss it (conversations here are welcome, and indeed the purpose), is developed and maintained the same way.

The title of this post is taken from the lyrics of an old song, ‘Epitaph’, by the 1960s progressive rock band King Crimson.