Christina's LIS Rant

In a recent post on openness and sharing in chemistry, I briefly touched on proximity to industry. This is actually somewhat nuanced and a few research studies have looked into it.

As I mentioned Birnholtz, in his dissertation [1] and subsequent JASIST article [2] describes proximity to industry as both/either being funded by a commercial or industrial organization and/or “the extent to which there is an interest by researchers or others in commercializing or otherwise profiting financially from research discoveries” (dissertation, p27). There’s the myth that the research university gets all of its money in grants from the government (NSF, NIH, mostly), foundations, and large non-profits. In reality, some money comes in from licensing patents, money comes in from DOD and NASA, and some comes from companies. In the LIS world, Microsoft and Google sponsor a lot of research (AOL used to).

So even though the money might come from a commercial organization, typically the intellectual property belongs to the researcher – in a University. Since the Bayh-Dole act, there’s been a lot more effort to patent in universities but as Bill Hooker found when he researched it, the licensing income isn’t all that. Kleinberg [3] comes up with some other reasons university folks patent, but I’ve discussed that before, so no real need to go through that again now. In industry the intellectual property is “work for hire” and belongs to the company.

So what’s the difference between a chemist working in industry and one working in a university?

Typically, being employed in industry means fewer journal publications. There are several reasons for this. First, publishing may not be valued or used for any type of promotion or reward (in some parts of MPOW journal articles have to be written at home in your own time and then still passed through 3 different review offices – which might take weeks if not months). A second reason is that the information can’t really be shared except maybe in patent applications and then it’s obfuscated.

Folks in industry will ask for help from others in the company before or instead of going outside because there’s more shared context – it’s easier to get to common ground [4]

There might be more standardized record keeping practices to support intellectual property claims. In other words, lab notebooks are checked out from a central office, are bound and numbered, and are locked up or there are centralized electronic lab notebook servers.

On the other hand, lots of studies show that the general information seeking of industrial scientists and engineers is similar to that of academic scientists and engineers (as an example, [5])


Added 12/6/2009

I forgot that Walsh and Bayma [6] talk about “market penetration” – they found that researchers in fields with high market penetration (chemistry and experimental biology) were less likely to use ICTs for informal scholarly communication than market buffered fields like math. I was reminded when browsing Fry [7]


[1] Birnholtz, J. P. (2005). When Do Researchers Collaborate? Toward a Model of Collaboration Propensity in Science and Engineering Research. Unpublished Doctor of Philosophy (Information), The University of Michigan. 3186579. (this is also downloadable from his Cornell website)

[2] Birnholtz, J. P. (2007). When do researchers collaborate? Toward a model of collaboration propensity. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 58(14),2226-2239. doi: 10.1002/asi.20684

[3] Kleinman, D. L. (1998). Untangling Context: Understanding a University Laboratory in the Commercial World. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 23(3), 285-314.

[4] Hertzum, M., & Pejtersen, A. M. (2000). The information-seeking practices of engineers: searching for documents as well as for people. Information Processing & Management, 36(5), 761-778.

[5] Ellis, D., & Haugan, M. (1997). Modelling the information seeking patterns of engineers and research scientists in an industrial environment. Journal of Documentation, 53., 384-403.

[6] Walsh, J. P., & Bayma, T. (1996). Computer Networks and Scientific Work. Social Studies of Science, 26(3), 661-703.

[7] Fry, J. (2006). Scholarly research and information practices: a domain analytic approach. Information Processing & Management, 42(1), 299-316. doi: 10.1016/j.ipm.2004.09.004