There Are No Secrets in Science
A. F. Serbin, M.D.
In days of the guilds trade secrets were carefully hoarded and exchanged between members. Only the masters knew them. Even the apprentices were ignorant of the basic formulae in Alchemy, the arts and even in the world of horticulture. In the latter field, one would think the jealously guarded secrets so prevalent before the turn of the century would no longer be necessary in the enlightened twentieth century. The earliest hybrid crosses of the great English and Dutch nurserymen were kept so well obscured that to this day we are in dismal ignorance of the parentage of some of our most famous hybrid rhododendrons.
A new hybrid takes some 6-7 years to bring to fruition. Another 3-5 years are necessary to propagate vegetatively in order to bring the plant to market in modest number. Would you not think, then, that a 10 year start is sufficient handicap to protect the hybridizer? Is there any valid reason for keeping the world in darkness regarding such contributions? Yet, at this very writing fine plants reach us from Europe with "parentage not available" tagged to the newcomer.
Such knowledge in horticulture belongs to everyone. Science no longer has room for secrets. Alas, secrecy is not confined to this special type of knowledge only. It is hard to believe that scientific societies can be equally as near sighted. In America, the Propagator's Society, a select group of men culled from our vast fund of horticultural talent is a modern guild who would keep secret their particular gifts. Scientific contributions read at their small gatherings are not available to any outsider. Only members may have a printed copy of the scientific proceedings. (Try writing for a reprint of any particular paper!) This is but one group who are perpetuating the outmoded philosophy long dead in scientific endeavor.
In physics, chemistry, medicine-indeed, in all branches of science, discoveries are published freely, gladly so that all may know. Would it not be unfortunate for us all, if men of science, did not give of their knowledge and new ideas? How many people would have died without Fleming's gift of penicillin? Consider Hench's discovery of cortisone and what it has meant to our multitude of arthritics. Tuberculosis and poliomyelitis victims are dwindling because new drugs were given and not withheld until commercially exploited. It may have been proper in the early nineteenth century for the discoverer of the forceps delivery instrument to keep his discovery secret. It would be most improper today.
Scientists today should have no thought of pecuniary return. The association of their name to the discovery is all that they may expect.
One has received full payment when a fine hybrid whose parentage has been announced is associated with the name of the hybridizer. There is no analogy between the business man who wants to capitalize on his find and the man who has created a new living plant that all will admire.
Let us give of our new ideas freely and happily. If you have discovered a new hormone, a better method of plant breeding, a new soil medium, a better insecticide, tell us all. No one will think or utilize your gift without remembering that you were its finder. Let us have no secrets in science.