Subject: Epistemology of FS
From: DV Henkel-Wallace <>
Date: Tue, 1 Feb 2005 10:21:22 -0800

On 01 Feb 2005, at 00:44, Stephen J. Turnbull wrote:

>>>>>> "g" == DV Henkel-Wallace <> writes:
>     g> It's also easier to measure.  Why study what can't be measured?
>     g> Classic problem in the sciences, social or other.
> The fact is true, the implicit conclusion is not.  I'm disappointed, 
> gumby.

It's a second assertion, not an implied conclusion.

You should not be disappointed.

More importantly that second comment not a profound epistemological 
statement about the social sciences[*] it's an assertion of the 
realities of the funding environments.  Although we can all trot out 
our favourite case of (in this case) economic theorising without a 
quantifiable framework, the reality is that era passed away in the 19th 
century.  Just look at all the Clark and Nobel winners: ISTR there have 
been only two philosophic theorists in the set: Myrdal and Hayak (the 
same year -- who says the Swedes have no sense of humour?)

ObFSB tie-ins:  I don't feel there is much serious study of free 
software economics yet (there is some fuzzy "community" stuff).  
Perhaps there never will be.  I really only know of one guy (some guy 
living in Japan) although undoubtedly there is more.  There reasons, I 
claim, are:
  1 - lack of theoretical framework that yields quantifiable structure.
  2 - lack of convincing evidence that it has significant economic impact
  3 - lack of value to likely sources of funding

1 - how much effort is expended on free software?  Who knows?  This is 
almost impossible to figure out, because it's impossible to find out 
directly for software in general.  Metrics such as KLOC etc are 
notoriously _irrelevant_.  For proprietary software you can at least 
measure revenues from the big public companies (MSFT, ORAC etc) and the 
DoL wage aggregates for the various employment codes and get _some_ 
idea of what's directly spent -- but even that's muddy.  For FS it's 
much harder.  Checking the # of Sourceforge projects doesn't tell you 
any more than looking at KLOC.

2 - Is even harder, even for the full IT market.  Figuring out the 
impact of IT has been a notorious problem that's kept legions busy for 
decades.  In the FS case it's worse.  Total money spent _purchasing_ 
Free Software is probably less than $250MM.  All the other spend is 
buried.  The market (pseudo) research firms like gartner show a tiny 
share for Linux (and nothing for the BSDs which are everywhere) because 
most of those dollars aren't measurable.  The 1U server I just bought 
from Dell is $0 for Microsoft == but $0 for anyone else.

The general form of this problem (economic value of declining costs) is 
a rich source research for macroeconomists trying to fiddle the 
inflation adjustors, but the specific case of FS is lost in the noise.

3 - I hope this one is clear.

I do think there's a chance of this changing, but I expect the 
interesting work will be macroeconomic analyses of FS adoption in the 
third world.


[*] Many (most?) social scientists find a chip on their shoulder when 
they talk to "hard" scientists, so I should remind you of my 
background: I trained as a historian -- you can't get much less crunchy 
than that.  And although I've spent most of my career shoving around 
bits (first as, well, an epistemologist, and later as a regular 
programmer) and now long sticky molecules, I still carry and daily use 
the analytic tools I developed back then.