Evolution of Technology (TEC 154 2014S) : Readings

Readings on Biopiracy (3)


Shane Greene "Indigenous People Incorporated? Culture as Politics, Culture as Property in Pharmaceutical Bioprospecting". Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/381047.

Rachel Proctor 2000 Tourism Opens New Doors, Creates New Challenges, for Traditional Healers in Peru. (CSQ 24.4) http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/tourism-opens-new-doors-creates-new-challenges-traditional

Rohter (NYT) "Brazil Moves to Protect Jungle Plants from Foreign Biopiracy" http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/23/world/brazil-moves-to-protect-jungle-plants-from-foreign-biopiracy.html

P. Cox "Ensuring Equitable Benefits: The Falealupo Covenant and the Isolation of Anti-Viral Drug Prostratin from a Samoan Medicinal Plant" http://www.ippacificislands.org/knowledge/Ensuring%20equitable%20benefits.pdf

(Return to Schuler Pp 176-178)

Brizt and Lipinski "Indigenous Knowledge: A Moral Reflection on Current Legal Concepts of Intellectual Property" http://www.librijournal.org/pdf/2001-4pp234-246.pdf [read the final section (242-244, Combining Tenets of an Ameliorating Intellectual Property System)]


Rachel Proctor's article discusses several peruvian shamans who have turned to tourism to make their profession profitable. These examples illustrate traditional knowledge changing from within. What is lost, if anything, from these changes? Should tribal societies be responsible for preserving their culture, or should they grow into a Western economic context? Is there any way to get both?

In our discussions so far, Professor Roper brought up the unequally-distributed nature of traditional knowledge, often possessed by only a few number of shamans, healers, and religious leaders (often one and the same) in a tribal community. In what ways is traditional cultural knowledge political? Does its restricted nature affect the political structure of tribal society? How does foreign contact alter the political power of cultural knowledge?

Much of the reading is about pharmaceutical bioprospecting, and a good portion of our debate consisted of comparing pharmaceutical companies to Monsanto and other large GE groups. How comparable are pharmaceutical companies to companies like Monsanto? Is work with staple crops comparable to the uses described in the article?

Ensuring that indigenous groups receive part of the profit of the pharmaceuticals that come from traditional medicine is a large focus of the articles. Is it even possible to repay certain indigenous groups who have little value placed in money? Are there other ways to provide indigenous groups benefits from expanding the use of their methods?

In Indigenous Knowledge: A Moral Reflection on Current Concepts of Intellectual Property, on page 237, the author talks about working with the trademark law, in an attempt to "regulate confusing uses" and to "remedy those situations where the non-indigenous product is often marketed either as an original or in such a way as to lead consumers to believe that some sort of association..." This seems like a cheap way out of this situation, when in fact the marketing does not fix the lack of compensation or "stealing" from the people that do not know better. Do they believe that this will help the indigenous peoples to be able to also profit from this product? Do they believe that this will provide monetary support and therefore will be less hurtful to the economics of the indigenous peoples?

In the article, Brazil Moves to Protect Jungle Plants from Foreign Piracy, the author states: "The system favored by the Brazilian government is that of a centralized databank that would store the knowledge accumulated by ''traditional scientists,'' as the shamans are sometimes called here. Any researcher wanting to make use of that information would have to pay an initial access fee, which would be followed by regular payments during the research process and royalties if the final result were a commercially viable drug." How would this relate to patenting? Who would hold the patents, the individual scientists who are working on this product, or the country or the databank?

About a quarter through the piece, Proctor states that recently "a lot of the shamans didn’t have apprentices because [traditional healing] was considered old knowledge, and the kids wanted what was new." Do you think that important cultural knowledge will be lost because younger generations are objecting to apprenticeship?

In paragraph 7, Greene says that "the politicization of indigenous culture is accompanied by a tendency to define it as property." What specifically does Greene mean by "politicization of indigenous culture"?

We are worried about losing TEK, by those that have the knowledge leaving the traditional setting and moving more toward a western setting. How can we make an incentive to have new people in their community learn the TEK?

Is the selling of traditional medicines to the west a bad thing? If it is, how can we stop it when the individuals just want to make a little more money?

What does the author, Larry Rother, mean in the NYT article when he says, "''People have shied away from the whole indigenous thing because they see it as a morass,'' said an American botanist who has worked here and spoke on the condition that his name not be used. ''It's much more attractive to investigate a coral reef than to have someone accusing you of ripping off the people of the rain forest.''"? I am unsure what he specifically is saying is a morass (the science, defending the science, the outcomes).

In the P.A. Cox article they mention that the biggest concern of ethnobotanists is 'how to best protect the intellectual property of the indigenous people with whom they work' (pages 33-34). But how can they be protecting their intellectual property when they are actively researching for development of other uses out of the indigenous context?

Is there a government body or position that has jurisdiction over the implementation of IP's in areas where they have not been introduced or fully developed? [Might be better asking about what kind of body or position might be created.]

Are there measures of creating a fair distribution of wealth among true IP owners who may, say, get their knowledge from generations of oral tradition? Is there a fair way to pinpoint one person responsible and accredited for an IP based out of oral tradition?

To what extent do these indigenous peoples have a moral obligation to share their findings if they could potentially cure diseases and save lives around the world?

Even if indigenous peoples are rewarded and paid well for their knowledge/findings, why do you think some would still not wish to share this material, especially those of developing countries? What would you do if you were in that type of situation?

This quote from the article written by Rachel Proctor and stated by Mateo Arevalo really got to me, "I am an innovator, adding to my ancestral knowledge...We, the Shipibos, are like any other human community -- we need to grow and change. We can't just stay the same so that the tourists can stare at the naked Indians in feathers and the anthropologists can treat us like a living museum." How can we properly fix such a large social problem? If Mateo and his community feel disrespected, is technology the answer? Shouldn't they focus more on social norms whole rather than simply follow everyone else's footsteps? These communities are special because of their unique social structure, wouldn't changing just that solve nothing?

At what point do we need government officials to put their foot down? Should we resort to simple regulation laws that will make these conflicts between communities much more avoidable? If rural communities are refusing or failing to develop along side the rest of society, should these communities be given a special treatment of some sort?

Copyright (c) 2014 Samuel A. Rebelsky.

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