Decomposing the “Tacit Knowledge Problem:” Codification of Knowledge and Access in CRISPR Gene-Editing

52 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2017 Last revised: 30 Jun 2020

See all articles by Neil Thompson

Neil Thompson

MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL); MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy

Samantha Zyontz

Stanford Law School; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Date Written: November 17, 2017

Abstract

The ability to edit genes with CRISPR has, in a few short years, been transformative to genetics, generating follow-on science such as drought-resistant crops and mosquitos that cannot carry malaria, and is widely expected to win a Nobel prize. The rush of scientists to embrace CRISPR in its early days provides an important and data-rich environment in which to study how tacit information is codified and transferred for others to build upon. In particular, the introduction of CRISPR allows us to explore whether embedding the associated knowledge into an easy-to-distribute tool (a plasmid) and making it available through a biological resource center (Addgene) solves the "tacit information" problem and the physical localization that accompanies it. We show that codification into a scientific tool does solve the problem of access; scientists of equivalent caliber experiment with CRISPR in equal measure regardless of where in the U.S. they are. However, scientists across different geographies have unequal success in converting that experimentation into published science, suggesting that some tacit information problems persist. The remaining tacit information seems to be driven by expertise, with geographies specialized in mammalian CRISPR helping to create publishable science on mammals and geographies specialized in bacterial CRISPR helping to create publishable science on bacteria. Collectively, our case study of the earliest days of CRISPR speaks to the tacit information challenges that are, and are not, solved by distributing embedded materials.

Keywords: Technology Adoption, CRISPR, Experimentation, Genetic Engineering

JEL Classification: O33, C81, D02

Suggested Citation

Thompson, Neil and Zyontz, Samantha, Decomposing the “Tacit Knowledge Problem:” Codification of Knowledge and Access in CRISPR Gene-Editing (November 17, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3073227 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3073227

Neil Thompson (Contact Author)

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Samantha Zyontz

Stanford Law School ( email )

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

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