Why the Scientific Method and Open Source are Some of the Best Things Since Sunlight

About 100 years ago, some guy named Louis Brandeis apparently said something like:

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Mr. Brandeis was speaking metaphorically (his statement was made in the context of a book titled “Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use it”). There are in fact other phenomena which are also social disinfectants from corruption, exploitation, manipulative propaganda and similar social ills. Some of these go back just a few years, others many centuries or even millennia.

Since open source software is a technology that requires computer hardware, it is a very new phenomenon. The scientific method, which has a similar foundation rooted in widely available publications of observations, is several centuries old – at least. Indeed, prominent scientists and philosophers alike have put public discourse at the center of the marketplace for ideas since time immemorial. We can trace the history of such public methodologies as fundamental to the development of civilizations worldwide – for example the technologies of writing and written languages are several thousands of years old. Spoken language is probably much older than that, with some estimates dating the origins of such “natural” languages to perhaps about 75000 years ago.

Note that all languages are not individual, but rather (at least) social phenomena – and perhaps they are even evolutionary developments that are in some respects independent of the societies and civilizations that use language (one obvious example being “genetic material”, such as DNA). The wink of an eye, or the tear rolling down a cheek require an agreement with respect to their meaning. If and when such agreement exists, only then can we speak of a common language, and such a common language acts as an important construct for the development of community and communal engagement.

Be that as it may, these are by no means the only foundations of modern civilization… – but they are at least central pillars. We should not allow any top-secret agencies or secretive corporate interests to chip away at the progress we have made as the “premiere” intelligent species. We should not allow impostors or terrorists to hijack our ship – mainly because it’s the only one we have. We must defend free speech and sunlight, lest some “get rich quick” scheme con-artists should try to pull the wool over our eyes.

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