, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 140–168 | Cite as

This is not an article: Model organism newsletters and the question of ‘open science’

  • Christopher M Kelty
Original Article


Scientific newsletters, especially in biology, flourished in the twentieth century. They are virtually unstudied, but can tell us a great deal about the simultaneous development of scientific communities or collectives and the concepts, techniques, collections, materials and maps they produce. This article introduces scientific newsletters as a ‘model organism’ on which to study the moral economy of science. As an exemplary case, the article explores issues of property and propriety in the Drosophila Information Service and explains how newsletters constitute a closed community at the same time that they demand the unrestricted sharing of organisms, techniques, results and other information within the community. The last third of the article compares aspects of newsletters with the contemporary claims about ‘open science’ in the case of synthetic biology, and speculates about the relationship of the current political economy of intellectual property to the moral economies present in newsletters.


newsletters genetics moral economy open science intellectual property synthetic biology 



This article was first presented at a Workshop of the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation (CSynBI) on ‘Synthetic Biology and Open Source: Normative Cultures of Biology’ organized by the BIOS Centre on 23 and 24 September 2010 and funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. I would like to thank Claire Marris and Alain Pottage for the invitation and for help with the published version; Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent for fantastic comments on the initial presentation; the Institute for Society and Genetics fellows for review and comments; Andrew Hogan for sharing his research; Hannah Landecker for careful reading and editing; and three anonymous reviewers at BioSocieties for extraordinarily helpful comments. UCLA undergraduate Gabriela Lazalde created the accompanying table and helped conduct excellent research for this article.


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Copyright information

© The London School of Economics and Political Science 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher M Kelty
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Information Studies and Department of AnthropologyInstitute for Society and GeneticsLos AngelesUSA

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