[Fis] Summary of the New Year Lecture Discussion

Joseph Brenner joe.brenner at bluewin.ch
Thu Jan 30 09:11:50 CET 2020

Dear Friends and Colleagues,


For people interested in information, the New Year Lecture on disinformation
and its discussion has taken place against an unbelievable background. It is
nightmarish, ubu-esque, Orwellian. Literally, the United States Minister of
Health stated last week that a woman's freedom to have an abortion was
slavery. War is peace. The greatest short-term menace to humanity is coming
from entities that consist essentially of information plus a few bits of
protein and RNA. The not-so-long term menace is global warming whose
existence is considered disinformation by some people, themselves heavily
involved in disinformation. 


In spite of everything, I think the key issues came out well:


1. Disinformation and Misinformation. Intent

There was general agreement on the fact of the existence of disinformation
and of misinformation as distinct from it. Disinformation is characterized
by the anti-social intent of the disinformer, although questions remain
about the detailed structure of intent as an operator.


2. Countering Disinformation

            Faced with the pernicious phenomenon of disinformation, there
was a substantial consensus that 'something should be done about it'. The
need for tools, perhaps at first computational ones, to identify
disinformation in documents was mentioned by several contributors. Others
suggested the inherent limitations of solely computational approaches and
the need to find and authenticate other criteria or 'markers' to identify
disinformation. I think there should be a working group on disinformation,
based on the willingness of FIS members to commit time to it.  


3. The FIS Group (1)

            I found a certain confusion between different perspectives.
Considering the diversity of our group, this is not surprising. There has
not been a consensus about what information and information science are. I
noted here a lack of consensus about what foundations or foundational
principles are or should be. The result was that many valid insights were
stated in the form of examples and anecdotal cases, rather than as
structures or principles. The, for me, basic principle that information is a
process, an 'informing' rather than a datum or data received little
attention. It should also be obvious that this Lecture could not cover all
related aspects of communication and behavioral science. 


4. The FIS Group (2)

The above notwithstanding, I feel that many fascinating concepts related to
information/disinformation, just touched upon here, are well worth further
development; the following list is completely open for additions, including
significant points I may have missed. The order is not significant:


-        grounding of disinformation in cognitive structures/the genome ;

-        hypocrisy and other recursive disinformation processes

-        public origins of disinformation

-        the universe of discourse in informational terms

-        art and its informational content


Thank you. It was a pleasure working with you.




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