protecting your ideas

In science, being “scooped” really sucks.

It crossed my mind when I set up Culture Evolves! that “idea security” might become an issue. There are two aspects to this:

1. Idea Security as directly relates to the work I’m doing on my PhD, which I have yet to describe in any detail because I’m not yet comfortable with how much is enough/how much is too much. As well as my own desire to publish from this work, there are other people’s intellectual contributions involved, so this is quite a big deal. I hope to get to some sort comfort zone on that issue soon; for now, it’s just the (vaguely out-of-date) description on my UCL page.

2. Idea Security as relates to work I wish to do in the future, or at the very least, be involved in somehow. The last month I’ve had two quite strong ideas for future projects; things I’ve not got time to do in my one-year-left-and-counting PhD, but that would make good 1-2 year projects. They’re both in domains of culture unrelated to what I’m looking at, so to jump in a new field is too daunting as a side diversion. But I would like to articulate and discuss them to see if they’re viable with people who might know more about those fields. It’s fair to say that this is what one’s colleagues are for, but sometimes one’s colleagues are busy, uninterested, or without background knowledge. And the same issues below will apply.

HOWEVER. Having an idea is all for naught unless it is out there, and in print desirably. Priority is such an important concept in scholarship (rightly so) and I fret about this all the time. There’s the idea itself, and then there’s the execution. I firmly believe that the doing is more important than the saying, but the idea does count for something. Where I’m heading with this is as follows: the expectation in academic work is that you cite your intellectual forebears, and give acknowledgement where due. That is, you make a bloody good effort to know your field and what other people have said and done. But how does the internet figure into that now, when just about any obscure topic gets thousands of search engine hits? If I throw out a reasoned hypothesis or describe a potentially productive line of work here, on a blog, should (a) I expect it to be attributed or (b) no longer consider it my “intellectual property”? Does this change if I slap on some sort of copyright notice?

Enquiring minds.


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