Sunday 16 May 2010

ODbL Deniers

My weekly copy of New Scientist arrived a couple of days ago. Amongst the usual news and articles there is a series of longer articles about denial. You know the sort of thing: climate change is a myth, there was no Holocaust, HIV doesn't cause AIDS, MMR jabs cause autism, evolution is an atheists' lie, smoking doesn't cause cancer and so the list goes on. 

All of these are well known in at least some circles. One at least, Holocaust denial, is illegal in some parts of the world. Some, for example HIV denial, has killed hundreds of thousands of people by denying them treatment.

The very interesting articles describe the similarities between these quite different groups. It outlines the way these denial groups form, spread mis-information, resist and twist the truth and some of the effects they have, including drawing ordinary, sensible people into believing their stories.

As I read these articles, I couldn't help but see the similarities to the process OSM is going through in moving to a different licence. At first there was a lot of discussion about the technicalities, was it the right licence, what might the process be and so on. Once the licence and process had been thrashed out - at great length I might add, the deniers popped up. They had not taken part in the process, they knew nothing about the law behind the licence, they didn't understand the benefits of ODbL or the weakness of the existing CC-BY-SA licence - they just know the change is wrong. So they look for the 'real' reason for change. It must be driven by commercial interests: it must benefit CloudMade or it must be so Google can take over OSM. The wording of the licence is difficult to understand so it must be hiding something and so on and so on.

I know that the OSM licence is not as important as climate change or HIV/AIDS, but it does matter to many people. If you are tempted to grandly delete the bit of the map you have added or send that email accusing someone of hiding commercial bias, ask your yourself this: Am I being sensibly sceptical or stupidly led down a blind alley? Have I studied this or am I reacting without thinking? Do I have real evidence there is a problem or am I making a fool of myself?

I am a natural sceptic. Sceptics question everything, but they let the answers they find lead them on, usually to more questions. Deniers are lead by their agenda and rubbish the parts that don't fit their agenda, however wrong it is, ignoring any contrary evidence. I am a sceptic about ODbL and I think it is the right way to go. CC-BY-SA doesn't fit OSM, it's time to move on. Let's hope the deniers can let go and move on too.

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