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Last week I was talking with a few fellow librarians and library students. I mentioned that I was pursuing my CAS in Data Science in addition to my MSLIS and their comment was, “so you’re thinking of going into business?” I don’t mean to dissuade any would be librarians from exploring businesses...

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Well, Wadda Ya Know?

Posted by Chad | Posted in IST511, Knowledge, Librarianship | Posted on 16-09-2013


I can still remember taking my first dive into data mining.  My voice had just recovered from incessantly reminding people that there was no year zero, so the millennium doesn’t begin until 2001.  In the information science world, we were all abuzz about this new era of database technology and information management. Business Intelligence wasn’t quite the buzzword it is now, though it wasn’t quite as far away as the horizon. Information was the pathway to knowledge, and knowledge was the currency in an information buzzword knowledge empowered hyperbole-laden buzzword world.  We were discovering knowledge in data.

Or so we thought.

Knowledge, as it turns out, isn’t San Salvador and cannot be “found” or claimed for Spain.  We have entangled the idea of knowledge and it’s creation with the idea of a Eureka moment.  Eureka, for those of you who aren’t fluent in ancient Hellenistic dialects (I’m looking in your direction, Scott), derives from the ancient Greek meaning “I have found it.”  Found what?  Was it in the couch cushions?  Did you happen to see the remote for the surround sound in there?  Bigger question: What were you doing rooting around in my house?

It seems that we have adopted the word from the story of Archimedes of Syracuse having himself a bath after a long day and noticing that as he sank into the tub and gave his rubber duck a squeeze, he noticed the water rise and calculated it as the volume of his mass.  As the synapses fired and linked up in his brain, he leaped from the tub and ran, naked, probably to the horror of many of his fellow Syracusans, shouting “Eureka!”  And that, kids, is how the Mountain Goat Race was born[citation needed].

What the Archimedes myth is telling us is that he found a link between concepts that, when put together, help explain something.  In his case, it was the effect of putting something in water to measure the volume of irregular objects and the question of determining the purity of gold in a crown.  What I find refreshing is the humility shown by regarding himself as an irregular object.




What he didn’t find was knowledge.  The knowledge gained here was created from the assembly of different concepts through an internal conversation.  One cannot find knowledge.  No matter how many coupons you clip, you can’t just run down to Piggly Wiggly and grab a box of knowledge real quick.  Whatever you stepped in out on the lawn was not knowledge (speaking of which, please take off your shoes on the porch, kthx).

Knowledge simply doesn’t exist until its created.

Next time, I’m going to rant good and long about that terrible DIKW pyramid.

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Comments (2)

Chad, this is great. I can’t wait for the post referencing Archimedes’ heat ray!

Hey Chad! Great post. Found the reference to the irregularity of Archimedes nubile form and poop on the shoe imagery particularly enjoyable. A DIKW pyramid could use a sound thrashing courtesy of your forked tongue. I first shook hands w/ what I’ll fondly call ‘the pyramid of disregard for centuries of careful epistemic scholarship,’ or ‘Pyramid of Slop’ in my applied data science class this semester. (Wisdom? REALLY guys? Deloitte is hiring data scientists not sufi mystics.) Call it business insight. Call it measures of confidence. But wisdom? No. If the pyramid were a snooty Brit, I would knight the gentleman into the Order of Cavalier Displays of Ignorance. The offhand dismissal of these epistemic concepts is more than a semantic disagreement though; the problem with the levels of the pyramid is its ignoring all the work philosophers have done to make distinctions between these concepts. That’s my beef. I’m interested to know yours! Do you think the Pyramid of Slop reinforces the idea that knowledge is a THING, like an immutable artifact (deep in the couch cushions), precluding humans, Platonic-style? Or is the P-Slop dangerous for another reason, say, dangerous for a company to think of Business Intelligence in these terms?

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