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Science Books

February 1, 2008

Against The Machine: Being Human In The Age Of The Electronic Mob
Lee Siegel (2008)

Part and parcel with any new technology that's found mainstream acceptance are the paranoid ramblings of Luddite doomsayers - and the Internet has been no exception. Despite the freedom that the Internet has provided us - from frivolous and frenzied consumerism, to the voice it gives to otherwise stifled political activists worldwide - there are those who believe that an electronic dystopian nightmare is lurking just around the corner. One person who may fall into this category is author Lee Siegel, recipient of the 2002 National Magazine Award for Reviews and Criticism, with his recent book Against The Machine. But quite unlike other works on the subject of the evils of the Internet, Siegel may actually have a valid point. Siegel fully acknowledges the conveniences and freedoms that have arrived since the Internet's inception, but he also recognizes that there's no such thing as a free lunch. As we continue to submerge ourselves deeper into cyber space, while surrendering every detail about our personal lives in the process, the boundaries between our private and public lives have become blurred and distorted. All the world truly has become a stage, where we willingly parade every aspect of our lives for all to see. Is it any wonder that reality television has enjoyed such a golden age? In his usual trenchant fashion, Siegel shows how living our lives vicariously via the Internet will ultimately reshape our culture and how we think, while also predicting that an unknown number of consequences are yet to be revealed.

Biobazaar: The Open Source Revolution and Biotechnology
Janet Hope (2008)
ISBN: 0674026357

By now, we've all become familiar with "open source" software, where software licensing and distribution agreements actively encourage volunteered modification and improvement of software source code by its users. Now, Janet Hope, a member of the Australian National University's Center for Governance of Knowledge and Development, argues that it's time to apply the concept of open source to biotechnology. Having written from a legal perspective on a vast array of disciplines, Hope knows all too well how complex, bureaucratic intellectual property laws have locked up the possibility for real, interdisciplinary cooperative research, and subsequently any chance of real progress in biotechnology innovation. Throughout Biobazaar, Hope tackles the question of whether an open source approach really could do for biotechnology what it did for software. Making research in biotechnology freely available across disciplines is our planet's future, argues Hope, as it is the most efficient way in which to combat hunger, disease, and take a holistic approach to the Earth with a view to preserving the balance of life generally. Hope's open source "bazaar" approach to biotechnology, as opposed to the conventional "cathedral" style of technology development, is discussed at length with Nobel Prize-winning scientists, innovators in the open source software movement, policymakers, industry analysts, and licensing experts. Hope's systematic inquiry into open source biotechnology reveals that it is both a viable and necessary step to take in the very near future - if not sooner.

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