I had a great philosophy class on Kant one summer long ago in my undergrad life.  What I recall the most was debating the teacher, on what I don’t really remember but I was pleased that I was being taken seriously.  I know I got crushed, my assumptions of the world torn asunder, my logic exposed as fallacious, but my ego was fine. It was honest scrutiny, nothing personal.  And I took that notion to heart, the idea that examining cherished beliefs is different than judging a person.

It was awesome.

In scrutiny done right, you are questioned into doubting your own assumptions, cornered by your own entailments, and come to a realization of why you are wrong or at least wrong in some view.  And as things become less concrete and more contingent, a taste for ambiguity replaces the pang of angst when confronted by incertitude, yet at the same time faith in your own reasoning becomes more credible to yourself.  You thought it through, you did the maths.

A kind of Taoistic unlearning has to happen, an unwinding of the ego.  A life of understanding requires a humble openness to where the evidence takes you.  It is never a question of being right as much as a question of being less wrong which makes things less of a trial and more of an experiment.

The Journey Begins

As a Ph.D. student in Information Science, I should, in theory, be able to give a reasonable description of the discipline.  The trouble is answering the question in a way that makes sense, at least to the to poor souls that asked me.  

There are official answers, Wikipedia offers the following quote.  

“Information science is that discipline that investigates the properties and behavior of information, the forces governing the flow of information, and the means of processing information for optimum accessibility and usability. It is concerned with that body of knowledge relating to the origination, collection, organization, storage, retrieval, interpretation, transmission, transformation, and utilization of information. This includes the investigation of information representations in both natural and artificial systems, the use of codes for efficient message transmission, and the study of information processing devices and techniques such as computers and their programming systems. It is an interdisciplinary science derived from and related to such fields as mathematics, logic, linguistics, psychology, computer technology, operations research, the graphic arts, communications, management, and other similar fields. It has both a pure science component, which inquires into the subject without regard to its application, and an applied science component, which develops services and products.” (Borko, 1968, p.3).

The description is comprehensive but gives the impression the matter is settled.  

Apparently, there is not a uniform concept of “information science”. The field seems to follow different approaches and traditions; for example, objective approaches vs cognitive approaches, the library tradition vs the documentation tradition vs the computation tradition, and so on. The concept has different meanings. Different meanings imply different knowledge domains. Different knowledge domains imply different fields. Nevertheless, all of them are represented by the same name, “information science”. No wonder that even scholars and practitioners are subject to confusion (Zins 2006).

In the article, Zins makes persuasive philosophical arguments that end in the conceptualization of “knowledge science,” a move from “information science” which is interesting, though doesn’t address my dilemma and embarrassment of explaining to people what “information science” is all about.

When asked to provide an example of information science I think of the applied side of things, specifically Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) user interface testing.  Most people have interfaced with a computer which must have an interface (even you command line ninjas), and the idea of making the interface as good as possible is relatable.  A bit reductive I grant you but we are talking conversation, and I’m aiming for a reasonable gist, not a comprehensive analysis.    

I suppose if forced to give a description of “information science” in conversation, HCI aside, I would say it applies the scientific method to information and how people use it.  That sounds convincing and even references the scientific method so you know its good.  🙂  

Borko, Harold. “Information science: what is it?.” American documentation 19, no. 1 (1968): 3-5.

Zins, Chaim. “Redefining information science: from “information science” to “knowledge science”.” Journal of documentation 62, no. 4 (2006): 447-461.