The Changing Nature of Knowledge in the Internet Age

Friday, February 17, 2012


As knowledge moves onto the internet, the nature and shape of knowledge is changing to reflect the new medium.  Brooke speaks to David Weinberger, author of Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room.  He says knowledge used to be limited by capacity and filters, but not anymore.

Zach Miskin & Nick Zammuto- Wasn't That Lucky

Comments [4]

You should take to heart how the New England Journal of Medicine was greatly mislead by "based on current data", over and over in the past. That could well apply to David Weinberger's assessment of knowledge as presently irresolvable on many questions and we can't rely on “the facts” to achieve agreements anymore.

It could be that in this new domain we’re not asking the questions that are answerable.

I think happens frequently as you go from one level of learning to another, that you grope around looking for what questions apply. That’s generally what makes the “great discoveries” of physics and medicine great, that they pose the new kinds of questions that make sense for the confusing new data people are struggling with. We all struggle personally on the first day going into a higher grade in school, for example, floundering around searching for what new questions apply.

So I think given the he’s talking about all the intellectual disciplines around the world doing that at once, it's possible Weinberger's view is just “based on current data”, that there are no really answerable questions any more. He may just not have found new ones that can be asked simply and answered with high confidence.

I don't claim to have found all of them by any means, but I found a number of just that kind of "new answerable questions about complexity". That's why I prattle on and on sending you letters on important subjects, you glance at and discard, to never follow up on.... ;-)

Feb. 19 2012 04:06 PM
Toby Saunders from outside Atlanta

Weinberger's conclusion is pessimistic though. It's not that no amount of facts can/could convince conservatives that President Obama wasn't born in Kenya: it's that the conservative authority figures would have to promote a more evidence-based & ethical viewpoint in order to convince them. The phrase 'facts are not facts' does not actually make sense, so I suggest getting off of that sort of Post Modern line of thinking; facts exist but some people have been fooled into believing that some false things are true because of an ethically-conservative culture & a cynicism about evidence and/or reality.
It's not that people have different sets of facts, it's that some conservatively-minded people (who have a genetic predisposition to tribalism & the like, and who are enabled by a backwards-looking culture) are looking to bad sources of information and inspiration. It is a problem we have been solving since civilisations began & we are generally progressing.

Feb. 18 2012 02:43 PM
Jessie Henshaw from way uptown

Brook, Another great show, right up my alley!

How the standards of scientific journals have changed is one question. How they haven’t changed (from the “bad old days”) may be more interesting.

They still treat our information on any given subject as reality, and our equations as being what nature is doing. So, science in that way still takes the posture of politics, "it's so because my information says it is" as the general theory of everything.

Considering “reality” as being independent of our information and only partially described by it, would of course seem to be a rather common sense, very old and very reliable point of view. It's used a whole lot less than you'd think, though.

One way science comes to rely on vast misinformation about things for that reason is found in our normal way of accounting for business energy uses. Economists count only the energy purchases they have traceable records of. The reality seems to be that's usually going to be on the scale of only 20% or the real total.

It might be easier to talk, but my research paper demonstrating the effect is: - Systems Energy Assessment (SEA) - (link to the journal at the top of my resources and notes)


Feb. 18 2012 07:50 AM
Hugh Sansom

David Weinberger has a deeply skewed view of knowledge — perhaps not surprising that he is at a university, Harvard, that is every bit as much a part of the problem as the publisher Elsevier, covered in the previous On the Media segment.

Harvard and Elsevier and many like them view knowledge and knowledge generation and dissemination as subject to the requirements of profit.

Feb. 18 2012 07:41 AM

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