Jean Tirole and Josh Lerner on Open Source

They wrote,

Open source and academia have many parallels. The most obvious parallel relates to motivation. As in open source, the direct financial returns from writing academic articles are typically nonexistent, but career concerns and the desire for peer recognition provide powerful inducements

They wrote this almost ten years ago. I bring it up because of Tirole’s Nobel Prize, announced yesterday.

Tirole and Lerner noted, with a bit of puzzlement that, compared with open-source software writers, academics were less likely to make their data sources public and more likely to allow their work to be hidden behind publishers’ paywalls. I think that in those ten years there has been a shift, at least in economics, more in the direction of the open-source model.

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2 Responses to Jean Tirole and Josh Lerner on Open Source

  1. Rick Hull says:

    Faith in open source technology largely reminds me of faith in free markets. Neither free markets nor open source efforts guarantee good products at low prices, but they are both awfully good indicators. They both rely on distributed meritocracy to push the cream to the top; virulently pro-consumer, both abhor monopoly and anticompetitive behavior.

    And while there are plenty of examples of specific open source efforts gone wrong, or bad market outcomes, their very persistence at least indicates accordance with “least bad” outcomes. Most truly terrible market offerings and open source efforts disappear or change ownership / production before anyone has a chance to care.

  2. Jack PQ says:

    I don’t see why this is puzzling. First, about the data, often datasets are the result of merging several publicly available sets together, or hand-collecting data. As long as you can squeeze papers out of these datasets, why share? Moreover, as Angus Deaton explained once, there are “replication trolls” who challenge published articles whose data are available, and make specious claims to score a publication. I’m all for replication but this problem should not be trivialized.

    Second, academics want to publish in prestigious outlets. Few academics expect the general public to read their works (Freakonomics aside). A paywall is no obstacle to (most) other academics obtaining the paper, so authors are roughly indifferent to them. Due to first-mover advantage (I think), for-profit publishers own most of the top journals. The outcome is that most research is behind a paywall. But this is a consequence of the peculiar economics of scientific publishing.

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