human knowledge growth and generation? “Sea of facts” delays Commission.

The Globe and Mail has a fancy graphic from the paper yesterday suggesting:

“The generation of human knowledge continues to increase at a logarithmic scale, doubling between 2008 and 2010.”

Globe and Mail culture graphic

Reminds me of the work of Edward Tufte. It’s a somewhat clever graphic; presenting information in an interesting way — e.g., it’s not some flippin PowerPoint slide with bullet points.  However, as I looked closer the title and quote is rather misleading.

First, looking at the graphic one is led to believe that using Facebook, texting, downloading music, and using a “smart” phone represents knowledge generation. If that’s the case then present-day teenagers have got to be the most incredible ‘generators of knowledge’ in the history of the human race… And that workplaces and classrooms must seriously re-consider the practice of banning these practices and devices.

Secondly, “market penetration” as represented by the big yellow circle is a good indicator of ‘human knowledge’?

Then I guess McDonald’s with its billions and billions served is one incredible source of human knowledge — or Nike, or Starbucks…

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If sending my wife a text message: “c u at strbx 15 min… need a buzz lol” is ‘knowledge generation’… then, houston, we might have a problem.

Or someone posting pictures on Facebook of some weekend drunken debauchery… hmmm.

There is some debate about what “knowledge” is — go to Wikipedia, for example. Some common dictionary definitions suggest:

1. The state or fact of knowing.
2. Familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study.
3. The sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned.

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It does bring me back to salmon issues and, for example, the struggles of the Cohen Commission in sorting through the mass of documents and such related just to Fraser River sockeye. Apparently emails and other correspondence are part of the struggle, meeting minutes and agendas, and so on and so on.

Mark Hume reports in the Globe and Mail yesterday:

Sea of facts delays salmon probe

A $15-million federal inquiry into the management of salmon on the West Coast has been forced into a two-week adjournment to give legal counsel time to digest the huge volume of technical material being disclosed…

…The surprise delay came after the more than 20 lawyers representing participants met with commission counsel to discuss concerns about the volume of scientific documents being filed.

Is all of this ‘activity’ in relation to salmon considered knowledge generation?

Does the great paper shuffle (hard-copy and digital) represent: “Familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study”?

And why just the “scientific documents”?

One of the most interesting components of Justice Bruce Cohen’s terms of reference as he summarizes in his interim report:

“to investigate and make findings of fact regarding … the causes for the decline,” the current state of stocks; and the long-term projections for those stocks;

I am not a lawyer, but I understand “findings of fact” to be a legal term. In a quick online search, this definition seems to fit:

Findings Of Fact is the decision, opinion or observation arrived by a judge or jury on the issues related to the facts that are submitted for a decision of the court. The finding of facts ultimately influence the judgment.

Wow… OK.

Fair enough, Justice Cohen can only make “findings of fact” based on what’s put before him and his team. Furthermore, that Justice Cohen’s “findings of fact” will be a key component of his determining “the causes for the decline, the current state of stocks; and the long-term projections for those stocks.”

For myself, that simply highlights the importance of making sure that many more folks — other than experts, government managers, and scientists — that have “knowledge” of salmon, for example are in “the state or fact of knowing”, or have “familiarity, awareness or understanding gained through experience or study”, or have a “sum or range of knowledge of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned” about salmon — need to better inform Justice Cohen’s “findings of fact.”

Plus, there needs to a good solid effort to separate the wheat from the chaff…

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What a curious thing… that something as hotly debated as determining why salmon have declined, actual status of stocks, and long term projections has to be defined (as a finding of fact) within the quasi-legal realm of a judicial inquiry — and within an 18-month period. (at a cost of a mere $15 million or so).

(In comparison, I’d be curious to hear what it cost DFO to devise, write, re-write, consult and implement the Wild Salmon Policy?… something that continues to fail miserably, be underfunded, low priority, etc.)

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And finally… if human knowledge is apparently increasing at a logarithmic scale… shouldn’t we be getting smarter?

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