Who owns science? – Some thoughts

It is no question that in a war, the side with the better technology has the huge advantage. It would not be the smartest thing to let the enemy in on your technological secrets. However in today’s modern world, where information spreads like wildfire, keeping a scientific breakthrough from spreading to the rest of the world can be a challenge.

This got me thinking, should countries share scientific discoveries? Or keep it to themselves? If a scientist makes a discovery, who does this knowledge really “belong” to? If the individual wills it to be released to the public, but the government says no for the sake of security, is that the right thing to do? Knowledge could benefit the world and mankind as a whole, however all it takes is one party to abuse this knowledge, and the consequences could be dire.

Let’s say for example, one country develops this amazing technology that allows us to cheaply generate great amounts of heat in a very short amount of time, with no waste products or anything harmful leftover. This is an amazing discovery. However, should it be shared with the rest of the world? Should it be published for the public? Or should it be kept as a government secret?

On one hand, if the knowledge is shared, this breakthrough piece of science could potentially provide clean energy and power for the world. Nations can start to move away from fossil fuels, even faster compared to building controversial nuclear plants or expensive solar panels. Poorer countries would have a cheaper cleaner alternative to fossil fuels, potentially bringing millions out of poverty, raising the standards of living everywhere. This new discovery is environmentally friendly, efficient, and cost effective. Said country would also earn tons of money from patenting the technology.  It is a win-win situation, by sharing knowledge, the world has become a much better place. So of course nations would want to share this knowledge with the world, to advance the progress of humanity as a whole.

On the other hand, this technology can be used to make weapons. Weapons that could incinerate a target quickly and completely. Make it big enough,and that target could be a building, or block, or even a whole city. It is not completely impossible such a thing could happen. Other unfriendly nations could build huge arsenals of such weapons, and start another world war. A foreign country could turn against the very creators of this new technology, using the weapon against them and killing millions of people. That is a very good reason to not share the new found technology with anyone. Such suspicion and fear may be enough a reason for any nation to not anything with the rest of the world, resulting in potentially great progress being lost.

Of course there are ways to stop the abuse of scientific knowledge, through parties such as the UN that could make weaponising such technology illegal. However, how effective has this been in the past? Countries have blatantly ignored UN orders before, with almost no consequences other than a strongly worded speech or letter. This is a whole other topic though, how effective are parties such as the UN, which I would write another posts about.
However the question still stands, who really owns “science”? The individual? The country? Or humanity as a whole?

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