InFormAtion. The “Act” of “Giving Form” to “Knowledge” (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla PhD)
It is a constant pressure in our lives how much we are influenced by the type of knowledge that we get under the label of “information”. From our years at school, throughout any conversation we engage into and all the way up through our careers.
From our early ages, we are taught to learn based on knowledge which has been previously organised and shaped. And furthermore, we are driven to adopt a position of undeniable trust towards whom allegedly claims to bring “information”.
The repercussions from adopting a position of undeniable trust towards those claiming to “hold” information was very well stated by George Orwell in his book “1984”.
The implications touch all corners of our society, from social behaviour reacting to the information “shared” in the media (TV, news papers, internet, etc) as well as in the scientific community dominating the drift generated from the information applied in “scientific” debates.
If “information” has become the “act” of “giving form” to “knowledge”, that has happened at the cost of diminishing the value of “Research”, defined as the systematic investigation into, and study of, materials and sources in order to establish facts, either to reinforce the validity of previous conclusions or to reach new ones. Nowadays, there are fewer minds exploring the validity of old and new postures, and more have adopted the trustful posture of basing their state of mind on “information” generated previously by others.
The amount of stimulus called “information” being spread all around us is so vast that it has collapsed the credibility and rigourosity applied previously in all the systems created to generate knowledge from data. From general media to academia, it is almost impossible to find enough resources and time to discern “objective unbiased contrasted knowledge” from the rest.
InFormAtion in the general media
Recently I found an example which made me realise how vulnerable we are all to this situation.
The past 16th September 2015, Chile suffered an Earth quake of 8.3-magnitude. Like me, many eyes started to begin looking at the possibility of seeing a Tsunami affecting coastal locations in the Pacific Ocean. Fortunately, the NOAA’s National Weather Service issue a report saying that “Based on all available data a major tsunami is not expected to strike the state of Hawaii. However… sea level changes and strong currents may occur along all coasts that could be a hazard to swimmers and boaters as well as to persons near the shore at beaches and in harbours and marinas.“
In the following hours, a colleague shared the link to a video published the 17th Sept 2015 in youtube claiming to show images from a Tsunami after the earthquake in Chile, with no location pointed out apart from be in Chile.
I looked for other references and I found the exactly same video footage in 3 different links from you tube, but being published months earlier and linked to a different event, the flash floods occurred in the Atacama desert in March 2015.
The event described in the first mentioned video gives misleading information about the event represented, and, even though, the other three videos that I found were pointing to the same meteorological event, they also were pointing to contradicting locations. The other three videos link the event to a river called Copiacó. However, one video states a location named Chañaral. And the river Copiacó does not run through that location.
Facing such contradictions I looked for comments which could clarify what was going on. It seemed that even the people leaving comments could not agree in location but they agreed on that it was a different river, the river “El Salado”, which it runs through the location of El Chañaral. So we have the river but we need the location. Three locations are being mentioned as the possible origin for the footage: El Chañaral, El Salado and Diego de Almagro. I could not find any source of information that I looked into, from any media published in internet, linking the footage to a location. Therefore, I went to google earth looking for answers. Would it be possible to link some features observed in the images with imagery found on google earth? This is a long shot but I have applied image analysis steps in microscopy before and satellites are the big brothers of “microscopes” so I would take the challenge, from micro to macro.
We can see El Chañaral, at the coast, El Salado, a small village inland, and Diego de Almagro closer to the desert. Since the river flows to the West (Pacific), the South is in front of the camera. The footage indicates a location being on its South covered by mountains close to the river banks. Meanwhile when the river reaches El Chañaral opens widely in a flat estuary. So we have two options to start looking in more depth.
We have a restaurant in the video. No info about owners and address. But, since they rely on offering service to the public they have to be in a “main” road. The red house is not a valid feature since it would not be seen from the satellite images taken from above. But there is a fence and a tree where the post has the restaurant name. After some empty tries, I have actually managed to find the exactly location from where the video was taken:
Finally, after some digging through the internet I can say that: “the video is not about a Tsunami related with the recent Earthquake in Chile 16th Sept 2015. The water flooding is the result of downpours in the Atacama desert in Chile the 26th March 2015. The source of water raising was the river El Salado and the location for the images was the village of El Salvado, between Chañaral in the coast, and Diego de Almagro inland.”
And yet, the main question remains, is it really necessary all this effort towards validating the source of every piece of information? Well, it might be.
InFormAtion in the social media
Networking is a concept which has started to dominate in social media. And in particular, it has become an asset in career development and everybody is beginning to generate a sense of awareness about it. Consequently, platforms like LinkedIn bring together profiles with the truly sincere interest of interacting in a constructive manner. However, similarly as with pieces of “information”, profiles are also “pieces of data shaped”.
When time and “resources” are scarce to assess the validity of an idea, there is a real threat coming from accepting information as truly pieces of knowledge based on: being the best looking, or the ones accepted by many. With a complete lack of rigour applied in verifying its coherence or legitimacy. This similar situation is replicated within the willingness towards enhancing capacities for networking, or just the feeling of increasing the size and numbers of the network. Sometimes, the trustful attitude towards “well shaped pieces of information” replace the rigorousity that it is applied when others are applying their arguments with not so pretty “data”. And we see how profiles with the same “shape” are attached to different people, and both profiles have quite a number of members in their network whom, I am sure, do not know what is that they accepted with this person’s invitation.
InFormAtion in the scientific debate
The veracity of the information and the points of view applied in scientific discussions has generated many debates outside academia and even inside academia (more here). In academia, the numbers of peer reviewed publications have raised in such a magnitude that it has started to be questioned the standards applied over the quality of the papers being published. In relation to climate and environmental transformations (land, atmosphere and water bodies) due to anthropogenic activity and emissions, such scenario has led to articles like the following one:
“Turn flood of climate information into useable stream, experts say.”
LONDON, Sept 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – For a city planner looking to make a new building flood-proof, or a farmer interested in trying out new drought-resistant seed, there is no shortage of climate change information available.
The problem, often, is that there is too much of it – and that it’s on too many different websites, and is not easy to understand or figure out how to use.
“We pour this jug of information over people’s heads and hope it sticks,” said Roger Street, the director of adaptation science at UKCIP, the United Kingdom Climate Impacts Programme.
So, as an ever-wider range of people find themselves dealing with climate change-related problems, putting that information together in a form that people can grasp and relate to is crucial to making good climate policy and decisions, argues an emerging group of “climate knowledge brokers”.
Right now, “it’s profoundly confusing to know where to go to get decent climate information,” says Geoff Barnard, who helps lead the brokers group, backed by the UK-based Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) and the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) based in Vienna.
“Who do you trust? Where do you get things that genuinely speak to what you’re doing?” he asked at a gathering on Thursday in London to launch a Climate Knowledge Brokers “manifesto” report. (and more)
INFORMATION – OR KNOWLEDGE?
So what does useful climate information look like? It pulls together data from the best sources, and puts it in context, the report argues. It’s in language the audience can understand. And it’s crafted with an eye to what the intended user actually needs.
“It’s no use just providing people with information if they don’t accept it and learn it, if they can’t use it. Then you have failed as a knowledge manager,” said James Smith, a strategic planner with REEEP. (read more following the link)
Information and Knowledge, shaped to last?
Under my point of view, from the last article mentioned, one phrase in particular has many meanings depending on the point of view you take to look at it: “It’s no use just providing people with information if they don’t accept it and learn it, if they can’t use it. Then you have failed as a knowledge manager,” said James Smith, a strategic planner with REEEP.
In today’s use of information, even the assumption of peer reviewed journals as reliable sources of information it is being challenged. The amount of papers being published is higher than ever. Are all representing the state of the knowledge in their fields? Are all free from political agendas driven behind curtains by economic interests or career expectations and commitments?
Either we agree or disagree on a topic, it seems that it has come as a valid position to be opposed to the mere fact of raising questions with a methodological attitude. Some questions addressed to understand the impact from anthropogenic transformation over the conditions in all parts of the global ecosystem, and its implications in climatic studies, seem to be out of order for some and right for others. And the debate is focused on justifying the posture chosen, instead of applying scientific rigour towards extending knowledge by considering all possibilities.
In environmental science, the first lesson to be learnt is that very few things are settled. And many “scientific” postures, coming from both sides of the table, are applying arguments based on settled principles unchallenged in years. Acronyms are substituting arguments and understanding. Even with the incorporation of new developments in climatic and environmental performance, and the incorporation of new instruments to perform research, relevant questions keep untouched. The incorporation of new points of view are not welcomed based on maintaining the validity of pieces of information handled like dogmas, shaped to last.
Dogmas and knowledge
When we study the behaviour of our environment there is a common agreement over the idea of that it is in constant change. That idea implies to assume that the environment is sensitive to pressures (internal and external) triggering those changes. Furthermore, the combination of both ideas, a sensitive environment in constant change, can only be understood considering that the stability of any pattern is only constant for as long as the conditions under which it happens keep constant.
So, for how long can we expect and project future patterns of behaviour in any of the actual sources of variation identified when our environment is under constant transformation?
- Should we expect that Solar variations are going to have the same effect over the climate as thousand years ago? What is it so similar between both situations? (more here)
- Should we consider the NAO, the ENSO, the MJO, settled patterns behaving as constants over time from which we can make projections or just mere features as part of a transition through time? (more here) Has anybody considered that the reason why there are discrepancies between years with the same phase signal might point to this idea?
Some situations in our environment (anomalies and oscillations) have been “shaped” with the effort of “standardising” patterns in order to predict outcomes. From Solar activity to Atmospheric and Oceanic dynamics, those standardizations can serve a purpose in a particular period of time, but they are not settled and should not be expected to keep constant over time under the pressure from constant transformations over those same factors which are involved in driving their performance, such as atmospheric, land and ocean composition and structure.
What if the NAO as it was defined by Barnston and Livezey 1987, was just a position in the atmospheric circulation as part of a transition accommodating new pressures and its standardization does not longer apply (more discussion here)?
What if the ENSO is more dependant than dominant over the result of alterations in some other parts of the circulation outside the Pacific, either atmospheric or Oceanic? (more discussion here)
Acronyms have the risk of overtaking critical thinking and become “profiles” in a social media platform of scientists, with a huge number of members in their network, whom have stop from asking themselves what those acronyms stand for and what they really mean.
Atacama, case scenario.
At the beginning of this post I used footage from the floods occurred in Chile on April 2015 due to heavy rainfall over the Atacama desert. In all forms of media it has been reported the severity of the increase in SST over the Pacific and therefore, any climatological event happening seems to be related to it. But, should we get dragged by our scientific dogmas so easily?
My interpretation, the heavy rains came after several days of high temperatures and a drought that stoked raging wildfires in Chile’s south-central regions. The fires burned nearly 93,000 hectares in the 2014-2015 season, far above the annual average of 59,300 hectares over the previous five years. Furthermore, the Villarica volcano in the country’s south, erupted on 3 March, forcing evacuations and disrupting air traffic. Atmospheric currents were dominated Northward due to a combination of a H east Pacific and a L in the low West Atlantic, resulting in an explosive combination of heat wave, humidity and aerosols.
About its relationship with abnormal temperatures in the Pacific, I doubt it. The SST in the west Pacific, compared with previous years, do not show nothing especial in magnitude or by timing in relation with lags responses between Temp anomalies and weather events.
Thanks to the Amazonian forest, the amount of water vapour travelling over the South American continent has shown to be sufficiently strong to even interfere with the jet stream on its own, without the help from the ENSO. More here
I would like to put some perspective here, involving myself. I believe that no one is free from unconsciously have a preference to hear “louder” what we want to hear and see what we want to see. Reaffirmation in ourselves is a strong self-defence mechanism. Including the fact that if our senses are not trained, when the knowledge provided doesn’t fit in with our thinking, our subconscious might pick’n’mix. Awareness of our own weaknesses, knowledge, curiosity and an environment with a proactive critical thinking attitude are the best companions for our unconscious mind. And yet, we will be always exposed to those whom consciously try to make us “believe” that we “know”.
Either for some people it is better to make us believe that we know so we stop questioning the establishment, Or we are told that we don´t know so we are not capacitated to question the establishment.
The establishment can even be a seed buried inside our own criteria. What are we willing to challenge in our system of thinking? I am a deep believer of that the key to everything lies in the way we formulate questions, the answers are as good as the questions being formulated, besides gender, or religious belief, degree background, colour of skin, country of origin, music taste, cooking skills, …can we think by ourselves?
Under my point of view, the main aim of any knowledge being generated is the integration of it as an useful tool. And yet, not all knowledge being offered is ready to be applied as a solution but it might be a good tool to generate awareness, to enhance a productive debate and to get closer different points of view.
The following is a letter allegedly sent by a teacher to the parents of a child. There are some sources in the internet where you can find it. But moreover, it was used in an UK national tv talk show (Graham Norton min 24). Either true or fake, “the whole situation”, the content of the letter as well as the questionable veracity, well serves to make a point.
—- xxx —-
(This post is part of a more complex piece of independent research. I don´t have founding, political agenda or publishing revenues from visits. Any scientist working in disciplines related with the topics that I treat in my blog knows how to judge the contribution that my work could potentially add to the state of knowledge. Since I am in transition looking for a position in research, if you are one of those scientists, by just acknowledging any value you might see from my contribution, would not only make justice to my effort as independent researcher, but ultimately, it will help me to enhance my chances to find a position with resources to further develop my work.
I believe that the hypothesis that I have presented in previous posts in this blog (here,here and here) could help to understand present and possible future scenarios in atmospheric circulation. However, this is an assessment based on observation which needs to be validated throughout open discussion and data gathering. So please feel free to incorporate your thoughts and comments in a constructive manner.
If you feel like sharing this post I would appreciate to have a reference about the place or platform, by private or public message, in order for me to have the opportunity to join the debate and be aware of the repercussion which might generate d.fdezsevilla(at)gmail.com)
For anybody interested in the posts related with this discussion here I leave you those more relevant in chronological order (there are comments bellow some of them. Please check them out):
- New theory proposal to assess possible changes in Atmospheric Circulation (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on October 21, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-k3
- Why there is no need for the Polar Vortex to break in order to have a wobbling Jet Stream and polar weather? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on November 14, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-mt
- Gathering data to make visible the invisible (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on December 22, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-pN
- State of the Polar Vortex. Broken? From 29 Nov 2014 to 5th Jan 2015 (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla). Posted on November 29, 2014. http://wp.me/p403AM-o7
- Probability in the atmospheric circulation dictating the Weather (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on January 15, 2015. http://wp.me/p403AM-rm
- Meteorological Outlook Feb 2015 (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) Posted on February 7, 2015. http://wp.me/p403AM-sU
- Revisiting the theory of “Facing a decrease in the differential gradients of energy in atmospheric circulation” by Diego Fdez-Sevilla. Posted on February 10, 2015. http://wp.me/p403AM-to
- Matching Features Between Land Surface and Atmospheric Circulation (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)April 23, 2015
- Drops of Weather. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)March 7, 2015
- Steering climate´s course (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)March 27, 2015
- Climate. Looking at the forest for the trees (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)April 9, 2015
- Matching Features Between Land Surface and Atmospheric Circulation (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)April 23, 2015
- Domesticating Nature. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla)May 7, 2015
- A roller-coaster of temperatures in South Europe. Spain (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) May 14, 2015
- Talking about climate (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) May 12, 2015
- News from an Ecosystem (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) May 20, 2015
- In climate it is becoming Less probable to not have a High probability. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) May 29, 2015
- Drinking from the source (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) June 5, 2015
- Communication takes more than just publishing thoughts. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) June 9, 2015
- Extreme climatic events, implications for projections of species distributions and ecosystem structure (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) June 18, 2015
- The scope of Environmental Science and scientific thought. From Thought-driven to Data-driven, from Critical Thinking to Data Management. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) June 26, 2015
- Atmospheric Circulation and Climate Drift. Are we there yet? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) July 2, 2015
- Lateral thinking. From Micro to Macro (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) July 4, 2015
- Something for the curious minds. Climate and Streamlines (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) July 17, 2015
- Solar Activity and Human Activity, Settling Their Environmental Liability. (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) July 24, 2015
- Atmospheric composition and thermal conductivity? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) August 6, 2015
- Latitudinal barriers and typhoons (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) August 13, 2015
- The Earth is Ticking (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) August 20, 2015
- What if, the relevant bit lies hidden on identifying the pattern behind similarities instead of trying to match anomalies? (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) September 3, 2015
- A Climate “Between Waters” (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla). September 8, 2015
- Sensing Atmospheric Dynamics (by Diego Fdez-Sevilla) September 22, 2015