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An open letter to B&MGF … of scientific publications, software and $$$ September 21, 2006

Posted by fredericknoronha in India.

Dear Rebecca, Thanks for letting me know about this. As you might be aware, I consider myself part of the Free Software movement. As such, I find it unacceptable to work with a fund that made its millions on the premise of the questionable practices of proprietary software.

While INASP (the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications) is a great idea and approach, can we afford to forget the need for an International Network for the Availability of Access to Software Products? Would this be acceptable to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which you might argue is separate from Microsoft Corp, but nonetheless made its billions on just the opposite approach?

Or do you consider scientific publications to be sharable, but not software?

In addition, I really don’t believe our planet merely needs a million dollars (or many million dollars) to spur intiiatives forward. Specially when this money was earned at the cost of placing unacceptable blocks on the sharing of software, curbing software freedom, and turning nine out ten computer users into “pirates”.

In my view too, what we need is talent and skill that looks at the problems and the needs of the many rather than at the luxury and greed of the few. While the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been claiming to do exactly this, history tells us differently. Is it possible to take the clock back to the pre-Open Letter to Hobbyist days? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Letter_to_Hobbyists or http://www.blinkenlights.com/classiccmp/gateswhine.html Or, alternatively can your initiative think of joining the campaigns of the Free Software movement, and its emphasis on the freedom to run, study, copy and improve software? If not, why not? Is it merely because it threatens a business model that helps to concentrate wealth in a phenomenal manner?

Am sharing this note with our BytesForAll list. If anyone is interested in taking up your offer, it’s upto them. I wouldn’t. Thank you anyway for taking the trouble to write though; nothing personal here, but I feel such issues and assumptions need to be debated. FN

On 20/09/06, Rebecca Priestley wrote:

Frederick Noronha
Bytes For All

Dear Mr Noronha,

Firstly, let me introduce myself. I work for INASP (the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications) and one of my responsibilities is to assist in the coordination of the 2007 Access to Learning Award, an award given by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It recognises excellence in providing access to information through computers, at no cost to the user. The recipient will receive an award of up to US $1 million. It must be stressed that this is an award for work already completed or in progress, it is not a grant.

We are currently contacting our large international network with information to encourage applications. I am sure many of your contacts may be eligible. We should be grateful if you could use means at your disposal, e.g. news item in your bulletin or journal, or links from your website to inform your community and contacts.

Please find attached a copy of the ATLA brochure in English and the application form. Full information (including brochures in relevant languages, and application form) is also available on our website at http://www.inasp.info/ldp/awards. I would like to send you a few hard copies of the brochure too so could you please let me know you postal address?

If you think I can help in any other way, please do get in touch with me.

Best wishes,
Rebecca Priestley, Programme & Events Officer, International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications, (INASP), 58 St Aldates, Oxford OX1 1ST, UK Tel: +44(0)1865 249909 Fax: +44(0)1865 251060 Email: rpriestley@inasp.info Skype: rebeccapriestley Web: http://www.inasp.info
INASP is a registered UK charity: number 1106349



1. Vinay Deshpande - September 21, 2006

Congratulations, Fred, for standing up for your convictions. Way to go! I’m with you.

2. Frederic Dubois - September 21, 2006

Wow FN, that’s a damn great reply there! Good show! I agree with your arguments 100%. Frédéric [Comments received via email]

3. Parminder Jeet Singh - September 21, 2006

Congrats, Frederick, That’s quite a spirited response.

Yes, we do need a greater match between practice and politics, and more so in the area of ICTD where ‘pragmatism’ often eclipses political engagements and questions. This is nothing but being penny wise and pound foolish. Long term structural issues – like the ones you raise – are often more important
than a few dollars that can be used immediately for a limited purpose.

Your comments also raise the issue of greater peer-review and critique of all those involved in NGO and development work. There have often been discussions on many forums about accountability in NGO/ developmental activity. And the solution often proposed is to go the market way, and look at business kind of efficiency measures. This ‘solution’ itself has the effect of distorting the politics of development and of ICTD.

In my view, the solution lies elsewhere. We can borrow from the world of serious academics rather than from business. Here there is a strong tradition of critical peer-review, and people actually look forward to it. And that’s the way to establish standards of quality. I think we have too much of I-will-scratch- your-back kind of situation in the ITCD world. And on the other extreme people go to blatant name-calling and petty querulous-ness, which is equal bad, if not worse.

We need responsible and constructive critical peer-reviews of both our politics and our practice, to realize the promise of ICTD.

Best regards


Parminder Jeet Singh
IT for Change, Bangalore
Bridging Development Realities and Technological Possibilities
Tel: (+91-80) 2665 4134, 2653 6890
Fax: (+91-80) 4146 1055

{Comments received via email}

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