Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

5. Genomics Knowledge

Halla Thorsteinsdottir, Abdallah S Daar, Richard D Smith, Peter A Singer

The importance of ‘access goods’

Practical constraints on using knowledge:

  • Knowledge is tacit
  • Absence of local R&D capacity
  • Access goods are often required to make ‘use’ of the ‘available’ knowledge
  • Genomics not GPGH to (developing) countries that cannot afford access goods

Although knowledge may, theoretically, be freely disseminated, practically there are constraints on being able to utilise this knowledge. For example, education and training, physical access to journals or the Internet, and research infrastructure constrain the ability to make practical use of genomics knowledge. There are 2 main restrictions on the use of genomics knowledge:

1. Knowledge is tacit: un-codified, embedded in people rather than in texts. Those people embodied with knowledge are rival (can only be in one place at once) and excludable (can refuse to cooperate). This restricts dissemination.

2. Absence of local R&D capacity: skills, training, equipment, institutions and networks to absorb and make use of basic knowledge. Distinction between 'free availability' (access unregulated) and 'free use' (accessing and using information without cost). Different types of 'access good' are often required to make ‘use’ of the ‘available’ knowledge.

Genomic knowledge is not likely to travel easily, despite the fact that massive amounts of genomic data are available free of charge on the Internet. Non-codified genomic-related knowledge is necessary in order to reproduce these results. Further, in order to absorb and develop applications of genomics, extensive investments are necessary in skills, research instrumentation and networks. In that sense genomics is not a public good to those (developing) countries that cannot afford to put sizeable resources into developing genomic research capacity. The publicness of the utilisation of genomics knowledge is therefore not exhibited to a significant degree across national boundaries, which limits its globalness. Developing countries will require several 'access goods' in order to develop appropriate applications from genomics for their needs, and become active participants in the genomics development.