[Fis] FW: LECTURE RESPONSES UP TO 16.01.20. Addition

Loet Leydesdorff loet at leydesdorff.net
Sat Jan 18 15:24:45 CET 2020

Dear Joseph, Mark, and colleagues,

Truth can undoubtedly be considered as one of the symbolically 
generalized codes of communication . In academia, we may be particularly 
attached to this code. But so is the justice system, although "truth" 
means in police work something different from truth/ truth-finding/ 
heuristics and puzzle-solving in science (Herbert Simon).

Luhmann argued for binary oppositions such as true/false as the code of 
science. True and false can only be elaborated in logics and 
mathematics. Empirical sciences work also with uncertainty: some 
statements may be more true than others. Some statements may with 
hindsight be false because of the progress of science. Thus, we would no 
longer accept that plants orbit the sun in cycles and epi-cycles. That 
statement would thus be false.

With reference to the intention to make false statements ( for reasons 
of profit, political gain, or crime) one can attribute "falseness" to 
individuals such as specific leaders.

Not Caligula, but Louis XIV is the Great King of the codification. The 
trias politica with three codes!. Frederick the Great implemented an 
institutional system for maintaining the rule of laws because he did not 
want to be bothered with it. What can be false in court, may be 
warranted in politics. It will not be easy to develop a theory of 


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
Sent: 1/18/2020 8:55:15 AM
Subject: [Fis] FW: LECTURE RESPONSES UP TO 16.01.20. Addition

>Dear All,
>In line with my preferred ‘philosophy’ of avoiding unnecessary 
>categorial separations, I will add Gordana’s note, and I may other 
>ones, to the first group of responses, where useful.
>Thank you and best wishes.
>A.10 17.01 Gordana’s note reminds us that concepts, such as ‘fact’, 
>that we have tended to accept without question conceal significant 
>problems of information and disinformation. For Democrats, it is a fact 
>that Trump blocked access to important witnesses and documents. For 
>Republicans, this fact does not exist publicly; there is only the fact 
>that they wish to deny legitimacy to impeachment. Are these facts data, 
>information and/or knowledge? I suggest simply a combination of 
>information and disinformation. The social use of lies/disinformation 
>does not seem to me to require a major new theoretical principle: 
>selfishness and the will to power will do very well, thank you.
>Gordana also makes an important connection, in the social domain, 
>between lies and the communication system. I hope Loet will comment on 
>this and tell us at what point in the hierarchy of contingency 
>disinformation enters in. In his note he refers to multiple meanings, 
>but here we are talking about false ones. Again, is there some ‘marker’ 
>for the latter?
>As to her last sentence, I do not have a literature reference for the 
>following at the moment; apologies. For me, mutual confirmation is a 
>widely, I suspect consciously, used mechanism to support doubtful 
>theories of all kinds, including and especially some domains of 
>science: A supports B; B supports C; and C supports A, ‘proving’ A, a 
>bootstrap as Gordana suggests. Finally, her reference is informative, 
>but takes us into the domain of art. Someone asked earlier if a 
>painting was not in some way ‘disinformation’ These are for me are 
>relatively easy questions, for which the touchstone is intentionality.
>From: Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic [mailto:gordana.dodig-crnkovic en mdh.se]
>Sent: vendredi, 17 janvier 2020 23:26
>To: Joseph Brenner
>Subject: Re: [Fis] LECTURE RESPONSES UP TO 16.01.20
>Dear Joseph,
>Thank you for leading this important discussion.
>I have been totally swamped with teaching and not able to contribute, 
>but I was following and reflecting over those things. Perhaps you 
>follow Aeon newsletter. If not, this related article might interest 
>The other day I was thinking about the relation between the data (as 
>“facts”), information (as “facts”) and knowledge (as “facts”). Also, 
>about the role of representation in the process of production of common 
>It could be connected to cognitive science, the process of the 
>construction of “facts”. The easier case is The Construction of 
>Scientific Facts (Latour).
>And the interesting case is the characterization of lie (in the 
>article) and distinction between misinformation and disinformation. One 
>can ask a question: what in a distributed information system like a 
>state leads to the situations where lies are made prominent part of the 
>communication system? It should be possible to study on historical 
>examples and I guess it probably has a function for that system. What 
>might that be? Simple explanation is that the network is hierarchically 
>organized and the person on the top of the hierarchy is trying to keep 
>the power. But it must also be so that people around are supporting it. 
>Why are they doing that? There are examples of hierarchical structures 
>like house of cards which are in a delicate balance and may look 
>impressive while in balance. But under a very slight disturbance they 
>can fall apart, and hierarchy is gone. Is there any chance to 
>understand mechanisms that support such social systems on theoretical 
>grounds? They present some sort of bootstrap where hierarchy is 
>reproduced through mutual support of the parts.
>Best wishes,
>From: Fis <fis-bounces en listas.unizar.es> on behalf of Joseph Brenner 
><joe.brenner en bluewin.ch>
>Date: Friday, 17 January 2020 at 10:49
>To: "fis en listas.unizar.es" <fis en listas.unizar.es>
>Cc: "pcmarijuan.iacs en aragon.es" <pcmarijuan.iacs en aragon.es>
>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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