>Information: Knowledge or B.S.?

>With modern technology and the Internet, there is more information out there than ever before in human history. Some argue there is too much information or that it is too disorganized and hence we have “information overload.”

The fact that information itself has become a problem is validated by the fact that Google is world’s #1 brand with a market capitalization of almost $100 billion. As we know the mission statement of Google is to “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

The key to making information useful is not just organizing it and making it accessible, but also to make sure that it is based on good data—and not the proverbial, “garbage in, garbage out” (GIGO).

There are two types of garbage information:

  1. Incorrect, incomplete, or dated
  2. Misleading /propagandistic or an outright lie

When information is not reliable, it causes confusion, rather than bringing clarity. And then, the information can actually result in worse decision making, then if you didn’t have it in the first place. This is an enterprise architecture that is not only worthless, but is harmful or poison to the enterprise.

Generally, in enterprise architecture, we are optimistic about human nature and focus on #1, i.e., we assume that people mean to provide objective and complete data and try to ensure that they can do that. But unfortunately there is a darker side to human nature that we must grapple with, and that is #2.

Misinformation by accident or by intent is used in organizations all the time to make poor investment decisions. Just think how many non-standardized, non-interoperable, costly tools your organization has bought because someone provided “information” or developed a business case, which “clearly demonstrated” that is was a great investment with a high ROI. Everyone wants their toys!

Wired Magazine, February 2009, talks about disinformation in the information age in “Manufacturing Confusion: How more information leads to less knowledge” (Clive Thompson).

Thompson writes about Robert Proctor, a historian of science from Stanford, who coined the word “Agnotology,” or “the study of culturally constructed ignorance.” Proctor theorizes that “people always assume that if someone doesn’t know something, it’s because they haven’t paid attention or haven’t yet figured it out. But ignorance also comes from people literally suppressing truth—or drowning it out—or trying to make it so confusing that people stop hearing about what’s true and what’s not.” Thompson offers as examples:

  1. “Bogus studies by cigarette companies trying to link lung cancer to baldness, viruses—anything but their product.”
  2. Financial firms creating fancy-dancy financial instruments like “credit-default swaps [which] were designed not merely to dilute risk but to dilute knowledge; after they changed hands and been serially securitized, no one knew what they were worth.”

We have all heard the saying that “numbers are fungible” and we are also all cautious about “spin doctors” who appear in the media telling their side of the story rather than the truth.

So it seems that despite the advances wrought by the information revolution, we have some new challenges on our hands: not just incorrect information but people who literally seek to promote its opposite.

So we need to get the facts straight. And that means not only capturing valuable information, but also eliminating bias so that we are not making investment decisions on the basis of B.S.

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