[R] diamond graphs

Frank E Harrell Jr fharrell at virginia.edu
Mon Aug 25 23:28:28 CEST 2003

On Mon, 25 Aug 2003 15:37:29 -0400
Scott Zeger <szeger at jhsph.edu> wrote:

> I read with interest comments about "diamond graphs" recently described in
> the American Statistician by my colleagues in the Johns Hopkins Department
> of Epidemiology led by Dr. Alvaro Munoz.
> Permit three brief reactions.
> First, "diamond graphs" were developed as part of the Multi-center Aids
> Cohort Study, a seminal study of HIV infection in the U.S. in which these
> authors have been key co-investigators. The graphs were created to better
> address a real scientific objective and that usually bodes well for their
> longer-term value.
> Second, non-technical descriptions of statistical work written by public
> affairs people, such as the Johns Hopkins web-page article commented on,
> tend to be enthusiastic; such is the nature of public relations. I, for one,
> am delighted to see statistical work noticed and discussed by
> non-statisticians within my University and beyond.
> Third, this University leaves it to individual faculty whether or not to
> pursue a patent for a discovery. That Dr. Munoz and colleagues have decided
> to do so does reflects their preference, not a University or Department
> policy. In fact, the Johns Hopkins Department of Biostatistics faculty and
> graduates are active participants in and enthusiastic supporters of open
> source software development. For recent examples, see:
> http://www.biostat.jhsph.edu/biostat/research/software.shtml
> Scott L. Zeger
> Department of Biostatistics
> Johns Hopkins University


I am really glad to hear that Johns Hopkins supports open source software development.  I do hope, however, that the authors will re-think their patent application.  Even though, as you said, it is not the University's idea, in my humble opinion such an application does not reflect well on the university.  The faculty in some senses are the University, and the University is associated with this application.

I just e-mailed the authors to make a personal plea for dropping the application.  In addition to setting a bad precedent, there are a few problems with their method.  There are even more problems with their article, including completely arbitrary categorization of continuous variables just so they may be used as classifiers in a diamond graph.  

The book "The Future of Ideas" by Lawrence Lessig, a noted patent and copyright lawyer who works on internet and software applications, is must reading.  There is a nice quote in that book from Thomas Jefferson about the harm patents cause to the interchange of ideas:

	"If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property."


Frank Harrell

Frank E Harrell Jr              Prof. of Biostatistics & Statistics
Div. of Biostatistics & Epidem. Dept. of Health Evaluation Sciences
U. Virginia School of Medicine  http://hesweb1.med.virginia.edu/biostat

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