Loet Leydesdorff loet at leydesdorff.net
Fri Jan 17 12:01:00 CET 2020

Dear colleagues,

It seems to me that in a pluralistic society a variety of codes are used 
in the communication. For example, politicians may discuss "energy 
politics" or a "shortage of energy" when they mean "energy carriers" 
such as oil. In thermodynamics, however, there can be no "shortage of 
energy" because energy is conserved. The concept of "energy" is 
differently coded in scholarly and political discourse.

A science journalist, for example, has the task to mediate and translate 
from a scholarly discourse into news items. "Science" cannot "meet the 
public." See for example:

Leydesdorff, L. (1993). Why the statement 'Plasma-membrane transport is 
rate-limiting for its metabolism in rat-liver parenchymal cells' cannot 
meet the public. Public Understanding of Science, 2(4), 351-364.

However, the representation of a concept in a different communication 
system of reference can always be frames as "misinformation" from the 
perspective of the represented system. A translation is necessarily 
involved. This is not "post-modern" because also the trias politica 
contains three different codes of communication. The same concept may 
have different semantics in the court or in parliament. There are no 
longer single meanings.

In a High Culture these ambivalences can be solved because the top of 
the hierarchy can eventually decided what is the correct meaning. For 
example, "Roma dixit":  misinformation is then heresy. In a pluralistic 
society, however, there is no single meaning. For example, what can be 
heroic in Catalonia can be considered as high-treason in the context of 
Spain. The European court may disagree with the Spanish high court 
because of using another code.


Loet Leydesdorff

Professor emeritus, University of Amsterdam
Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR)

loet en leydesdorff.net <mailto:loet en leydesdorff.net>; 
Associate Faculty, SPRU, <http://www.sussex.ac.uk/spru/>University of 

Guest Professor Zhejiang Univ. <http://www.zju.edu.cn/english/>, 
Hangzhou; Visiting Professor, ISTIC, 

Visiting Fellow, Birkbeck <http://www.bbk.ac.uk/>, University of London;

ORCID: http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7835-3098;

------ Original Message ------
From: "Joseph Brenner" <joe.brenner en bluewin.ch>
To: fis en listas.unizar.es
Cc: pcmarijuan.iacs en aragon.es
Sent: 1/17/2020 10:48:14 AM
Subject: [Fis] LECTURE RESPONSES UP TO 16.01.20

>Dear Friends and Colleagues,
>As our discussion is taking place, the governments of Russia and the 
>United States are being recognized as the sources of massive amounts of 
>disinformation. Their objective in part was the election and is now the 
>re-election of Trump as President of the United States. My personal 
>view is that this disinformation is linked to and supports extreme 
>right-wing economic, political and fundamentalist belief systems. I was 
>therefore glad to see the agreement, in the responses to my Lecture, 
>that disinformation is not only an important topic for further 
>discussion in the context of the Foundations of Information Science, 
>but one which some members of our group may be in a position to 
>I will present my comments in two groups, the first today are on the 
>responses with which I agree, in a week or so on responses with which I 
>disagree. As people who have followed my work might expect, there is no 
>absolute separation between these categories. I also will try to give 
>some sense of the dynamics of our dialogue. They will be indexed simply 
>to facilitate (cross-) reference.
>I look forward to your responses as the basis for the next phase of the 
>Thank you and best wishes,
>A.I 02.01 Jose Javier emphasized the public origins of disinformation, 
>its relation to ‘intelligence’ and its use by totalitarian regimes, 
>exactly along the lines above. I tend to agree with his suggestion that 
>more than having a structure close to if not identical to information, 
>disinformation IS information, BAD information. Using the ‘dis’ as an 
>oversimplified distinction in structure tends to gloss over the 
>pernicious operation of information with the properties we decry. 
>Perhaps another term would convey the idea better or more simply.
>A.2 02.01 I am grateful to Stan for pointing to the distinction between 
>concepts and examples. I suggest we keep this comment in mind in our 
>further discussion.
>A.3 03.01 Mark J. responded to a comment by Stan with which I 
>disagreed, namely, that there was something less primary about 
>disinformation. Stan interposes an actor, a ‘searcher’ who analyzes 
>information and ‘reports’ on it, presumably distorting it in the 
>process. In any case, I think we agree that disinformation is a process 
>– one of disinforming. I disagree with Mark however regarding agents 
>and a consequent theory of agency (which has value in other respects). 
>My view is that one cannot have the intentionality to disinform without 
>an agent, and this can be an individual present at the start of the 
>process. I suggest to Stan here that his two-step process is not 
>absolutely necessary: the agent, the intentional ‘disinformer’, takes 
>whatever material is available and mis- or should I say dis-uses it. 
>Mark’s point about the necessity of even the smell (or stink) of an 
>‘informational police’ is certainly correct, but what is an acceptable 
>alternative? Actually, police are simply tools of government, good or 
>bad. We are talking here about responsible collective interactions as 
>FIS members with – whom? We don’t know yet.
>A.4 06.01 Karl makes a number of useful points.The most important is 
>the confusion, in English between disinformation, as the suppression, 
>non-dissemination of inconvenient data or theories, and disinformation 
>as the dissemination of false data. The confusion is not present in 
>French, where the second is désinformation, and, as I learn, also in 
>German and Hungarian. So what do we do? Push for the use of 
>desinformation in English, which requires explanation, or something 
>else? In any case, both share the notion of intentionality.
>Finally, I liked the way Karl pats us all on the back, but the 
>objective remains also to get some message to someone outside the 
>A.5 05.01 Pedro makes several important restatements of the biological 
>origins of the equivalents of disinformation. (Until further notice, 
>pace Karl, we have to continue to use this form.) The exacerbation of 
>disinformation due to the new technologies also needs to be emphasized. 
>What we have not yet identified is the distinguishing ‘marker’ of 
>disinformation. It is a ‘fake’ as Pedro says qua content, but it looks 
>exactly like the information people are used to getting. It can easily 
>mimic credibility and authority, even if one has to be really ignorant 
>not to see through it (45% of the U.S. population?)
>The question of balance is more interesting and possibly more 
>encouraging. Balance in seeing and presenting other, alternative views 
>to one’s own is an indication of openness and tolerance - at last, a 
>few positive words! There is little balance in disinformation. In fact, 
>perhaps absence of pros and cons in the same message, might be a marker 
>for disinformation.
>A.6 09.01 This is perhaps the most serious, clear and urgent call so 
>far, by Terry, for an adequate intellectual level of analysis of 
>disinformation and related issues. Terry’ most important point, which I 
>hope will receive further discussion as son as possible, regards the 
>role IS4SI has to play and in front of what audience.
>I wish to emphasize that I was not making some kind of Luddite argument 
>against cybernetic approaches (my note about Terry’s of 10.1) I only 
>wished to insure that they have adequate grounding in non-computational 
>science and philosophy. I hope, or even ask, that Terry could expand on 
>his ideas on an informational immune system. This would be the next 
>step after the identification of the ‘markers’ for the dis-ease.
>A.7 09.01 More than just a supplementary question, I feel this note of 
>Mark’s goes to the heart of the technological vs. the non-technological 
>aspects of the problem. I note his consideration of information and 
>disinformation in tandem, at the level of institutions and systems. 
>(For me, a husband and wife, or two friends or colleagues are systems). 
>I also agree that over-application of computer systems to institutions 
>may result in information loss.  In the context of this discussion, it 
>may actually be a tool employed by people who intend to disinform.
>A.8 08.01 Mark’s follow-up note points to one success of AI that I 
>suggest be followed up separately. More specifically, he asks if 
>machine learning, “might ground an insight” into the functional 
>difference between information and disinformation, along the lines of 
>Terry’s considerations. My response is the same: if yes, fine, but 
>human learning is also required, and must be supported. If not, there 
>will be no one left but machines, and I am sure they will be able to 
>pursue ‘truth’ on their own.
>A.9 15.01 In supporting Terry, Pedro again calls for a role for IS4SI, 
>initially internally with the formation of a special working group. Its 
>purpose would be to see what both theoretical and applied contributions 
>we might make. However, it is not the computer world as such that will 
>result in ‘voting every afternoon’, in Arbib’s fuite en avant. when 
>only X% (Pedro, please give us the right number) of the members of FIS 
>have responded to this Lecture.
>The point about authentification, however, joins the previous ones 
>about markers and functional differences; and constitutes a first real 
>mini-consensus on a target for further work.
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