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Re: [ontolog-forum] Copyright in Taxonomies: Leading case in US law (ADA

To: "'[ontolog-forum] '" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Research <research@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 29 Oct 2010 17:46:19 -0700
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From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Christopher Menzel
Sent: Friday, 29 October, 2010 07:05
To: [ontolog-forum]
Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Copyright in Taxonomies: Leading case in US law (ADA v. Delta Dental)


On Oct 28, 2010, at 2:53 PM, Peter F Brown (Pensive) wrote:


Can you point me to a “classification *system*” that is not human-created?


Of course not.  No one is disputing that.  The disputed claim is that no such systems "reflect any 'natural' objective truth or set of 'facts'". That is an utter non sequitur.


Your comments about different classification systems of modern astronomy would seem merely to underline my point, surely:


Then surely you have missed mine.


they are all the product of human reasoning


Of course astronomy — the scientific study of the heavens — is a product of human reasoning.  The question is whether the heavens themselves are one way rather than another and, hence, that astronomical systems can be considered objectively true to the extent that they reflect the way the heavens actually are.  It does not follow from the fact that astronomy is a product of human reasoning that its content is somehow nothing more than a story or myth.  It is, to say the least, credible to hold that it is an objective fact that earth is not flat and fixed in space and covered by a solid dome on which the stars are hung and through which water passed to cause rain; to hold that that "classification system" just flat got it wrong.  Likewise, it seems much more than credible that our modern classification system of planets, stars, and galaxies, on which the earth is a speck in an incomprehensibly huge universe, gets the facts pretty much exactly right.


[Peter:] I think Hawking would dispute whether there is any theory-independent reality or everything is model-dependent. We create classification systems to understand and interpret the world around us. They don’t make the world any more or less real.


backed up, to greater or lesser extents, by observation and calculation.


What's the point of observation and calculation if there are no objective truths?  What we observe is a world that pushes back, that puts constraints on what we can say, and which cannot be structured and described in any way that we choose. It is, at the least, a credible position that the reason for this is that the world itself exhibits a structure that we strive to capture in our classification systems and that classifications succeed to the extent that they get that structure right.


I’m not suggesting that Lakoff settled anything but at least he and Rosch highlighted and criticised the absence of any serious scientific inquiry into “classical” classification (folk) theory that Western philosophy has unquestioningly assumed and taken as axiomatic for more than two millennia before Wittgenstein started to question it.


If really think W. has been that influential in contemporary philosophy of science you need to read a bit more widely.

[Peter:] A cheap shot. That is not what I said. I suggested only that he had *started* to pick away at the “folk theory” of classification that had been around and been unquestioningly assumed for so long. Lakoff wasn’t necessarily original but he is to be commended for bringing the work of many critics of this ‘classical’ approach to a wider audience than navel-gazing philosophers.


Back to my central and main observation: as all classification systems are the product of human creativity, they are eminently copyrightable.


From which it sure seems to follow that the classification of, say, natural numbers into primes and composites, the reals into algebraic and transcendental, and functions into computable or uncomputable are all "eminently copyrightable".  So too the classification of the elements in the periodic table; the classification of subatomic particles into leptons and quarks, blood into its various types, microbes into archaea, bacteria, fungi, viruses, protista, and symbionts, etc.  Your thesis is not only philosophically untenable but, it seems to me, appalling and dangerous, as its logical end is the corporate ownership of every aspect of scientific and mathematical knowledge.

[Peter:] You really need to read a bit more widely on the subject of copyright! ;-)


You could argue that there are ‘objectively true classifications’ and I won’t pick a fight with you.

I am talking about ‘classification systems’ not ‘classifications’, by which I mean the human desire, propensity and endeavour to group things in tidy boxes rather than any (arguably) objectively discernable and testable ‘natural’ classifications.

It is telling that you don’t claim ‘numbers’ as a classification – “the category number is not bounded in any natural way and it can be limited or extended depending on one’s purpose”, such as transcendental, real, rational, etc. as you rightly point out. For me, “limited or extended depending on one’s purpose” implies human agency and thus a system, not a natural state. So, yes, I would argue that such systems are copyrightable.


Could Mendeleev have copyrighted his Periodic Table? Yes. Did he? No.

Are there are other periodic tables other than his? Yes. Are any of these copyrighted? Yes.


Copyright is basically an essential claim by a human agent to be identified and recognised as the creator of some original piece of work. How copyright is declared, asserted and defended, are the subject of different legal systems and interpretations.

Behind me on my bookshelf I have a first edition copy of Gödel’s ‘Formally Undecidable Propositions’ which carries a copyright notice but no-one would argue that any of the formal statements or formulae therein are copyrightable. What is copyrighted is his _expression_ (or ‘fixation’ in copyright parlance).

Copyright is not the same as – nor does it imply – something being patentable, licensable or otherwise financially exploitable, which *are* legitimate concerns? I agree. The extent to which these issues are inexorably or only tangentially linked to copyright is a matter of legal interpretation, case and statute law – to which I think Simon was hinting in his original post.


Your pompous and, dare I say, illogical leap to the conclusion that “my thesis…as its logical end is the corporate ownership of every aspect of scientific and mathematical knowledge”, my friend, is what is dangerous in this exchange! The stench of moral outrage is no doubt invigorating to some but it really doesn’t have a place in this discussion.


That's all I will say about realism/anti-realism, a topic that has serious rabbit-hole potential and, hence, is best avoided in this forum, [Peter:] aka “my way or the highway”?

which already too often consists in idle speculation and free association (h/t Ed B.). The issue of copyrighting scientific knowledge, by contrast, does have important practical upshot and warrants further discussion.

[Peter:] If you were to re-word your assertion to “the issue of exploiting the copyright of scientific knowledge...”, I would have no disagreement.


Chris Menzel


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