database integrity and data sharing, an historical example

Robert Robbins rrobbins at WELCHGATE.WELCH.JHU.EDU
Thu May 6 17:47:45 CDT 1993

The problem of scientists being very enthusiastic about sharing someone else's
data and less so about sharing their own is not a new problem nor is it
correlated only with lesser scientific lights.  At the end of Hawking's "A Brief
History of Time" he offers (for no apparent reason) a brief commentary on Sir
Isaac Newton, which I excerpt below.  I have turned this into a slide that I
show at bio database meetings with the caption:

Data Sharing -- Not a New Problem

Newton ... clashed with the Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, who
had earlier provided Newton with much needed data for Principia,
but was now withholding information that Newton wanted.  Newton
would not take no for an answer; he had himself appointed to the
governing body of the Royal Observatory and then tried to force
immediate publication of the data.  Eventually he arranged for
Flamsteed's work to be seized and prepared for publication by
Flamsteed's mortal enemy, Edmond Halley.  But Flamsteed took the
case to court and, in the nick if time, won a court order
preventing distribution of the stolen work.  Newton was incensed
and sought his revenge by systematically deleting all references
to Flamsteed in later editions of Principia.

Hawking, Stephen W.  1988.  A Brief History of Time.  New York:
Bantam Books.  p. 181

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