June 02, 2008

Biostinginess

While the most technologically advanced citizens of the world move towards open source and the free sharing of information, some people want traditional societies to move in the opposite direction. According to the Westerners who speak in the name of so-called "indigenous" peoples, the latter must keep their knowledge to themselves, or try to sell it at astronomical prices, and must refrain from acquiring new knowledge from other people, lest they become culturally polluted. And not only that. People not of the right race and religion must not learn by themselves about stuff related to the "indigenous heritage," because that would be "piracy."

For example, according to some proponents of the biostinginess movement, people that belong to the non-indigenous race must not take plant samples from South American tepuis in order to find out their evolutionary relationships (in biological parlance, to conduct a phylogenetic analysis). The "indigenous" people that live in the surrounding lowlands do not use the tepui plants, and probably know little or nothing about their phylogeny. But they apparently have the right to deny others the knowledge of plant phylogeny because tepuis are "sacred."

My words do not make justice to the original text. If you subscribe to Nature you can read it here. If not, you can read it on the website of one of the authors, Stuart Pimm, who decided to share his knowledge and arguments with all of us for free.

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