Dear Mark and FIS Colleagues,

Apart from the very interesting "elevated" comments, let me refer to more mundane aspects of scientific communication.

First, is really publishing the essential form of scientific communication? Or is it complementary to other more basic form? My bet is that oral exchange continues to be the central vehicle. It is the "Brownian Motion" that keeps running and infuses vitality to the entire edifice of science. The success of some new techs (eg, emails, discussion lists) is that they share some curious characteristics with oral discussion groups. "Publishing", is very old too (Plato, Aristotle, Alexandrian Library...), and saves time and space constraints, and provides "textual" shared memories as well, but without the face-to-face contact it does not mark efficiently changes of thought. Learning Institutions carefully preserve the infrastructure of lectures, seminars, conventions, conferences, congresses, "casual" encounters... Otherwise the system languishes into bureaucracy and stagnation.

Second, publications have had an important interference derived from scientific massification (even before the current info era). Given that publication records were taken the world around as indicators of scientific productivity (linking thus salaries, reputations, careers, investments, etc.) they took central stage and became functionally "independent" of communicating the advancements of thought beyond spacetime constraints. The budged of research and innovation has escalated in most countries to more than 2% of GDP. Management of these colossal figures does not get very close to the scientific ethos of "sharing of knowledge", conversely it carefully controls the indicators and procedures for their own sake.

Third, another related factor impinging is the enormous scale of the whole scientific enterprise itself. Around 6,000 disciplines, millions of practitioners the world over (20 or 30 million scientists and technologists?). With every passing generation after the industrial revolution, the R&D system has approximately doubled. Besides, the recent incorporation of China and India and other countries to the most advanced research areas, has more than doubled the share of the present generation. The publishing management and the factual miscommunication between so many fields create really dense problems.

Together with the invasion of the new info techs, the factors mentioned (neglect of the oral, indicator effect, untamed massification) create a lot of pressure to change the system "from within" probably. Personally I befriend the Open Access movement and the likes, but I do not welcome the big burden of screen-time implied (less reading, less talk, less creativity). A new version of the "barbarianism of specialization" (Ortega y Gasset) is breeding.

Thanks for listening!


El 10/10/2016 a las 21:56, Mark Johnson escribió:

Dear Dai, Rafael, Loet and all,

Thank you for your comments - the theological connection interests me
because it potentially presents a paradigm of a more vulnerable
and open dialogue.

Loet, clearly the redundancy is apophatic, although one has to be
cautious in saying this: the domain of the apophatic is bigger than
the domain of Shannon redundancy. At some point in the future we may
do better in developing measurement techniques for 'surprise' in
communication (I wonder if Lou Kauffman's Recursive Distinguishing is
a way forwards...). Shannon's formulae have served us well because
we've constrained our digital world around them. "Surprise", from a
phenomenological perspective, is a much more slippery thing than the
measure of probability. There are, as Keynes and others identified,
fundamental ontological assumptions about induction which do not
appear to be sound in probabilistic thinking. These questions are not
separable from questions about the nature of empirical reasoning
itself (Keynes used Hume as his reference point), and by extension,
about the communication between scientists. I still don't know what
information is; I've simply found it more helpful and constructive to
think about constraint, and Shannon redundancy presents itself as a
fairly simple thing to play with.

Back to scientific communication, I've been looking at David Bohm
whose thoughts on dialogue are closely related to his thinking about
physics, and to my own concern for constraint. He writes:

"when one comes to do something (and not merely to talk about it or
think about it), one tends to believe that one already is listening to
the other person in a proper way. It seems then that the main trouble
is that the other person is the one who is prejudiced and not
listening. After all, it is easy for each one of us to see that other
people are 'blocked' about certain questions, so that without being
aware of it, they are avoiding the confrontation of contradictions in
certain ideas that may be extremely dear to them. The very nature of
such a 'block' is, however, that it is a kind of insensitivity of
"anaesthesia" about one's own contradictions." (Bohm, "On Dialogue",

The blocks are complex, but "published work" and "reputation" are
important factors in establishing them. I was at a conference last
week where a highly established figure castigated a young PhD student
who was giving an excellent but challenging presentation: "have you
read ANY of my books?!". The student dealt with the attack elegantly;
everyone else thought it revealed rather more about the constraints of
ego of the questioner (confirming a few suspicions they might have had

Our practices of "Not communicating" in science are, I think,
well-demonstrated by considering this encounter between Richard
Dawkins, Rowan Williams and Anthony Kenny.

I think it's worth pointing out the constraints (or "blocks") of their
positions, which (particularly in Dawkins case) are very clearly on
display. My reading of this is that they attempt to communicate by
coordinating terminology/explanations/etc. All the time they are aware
of the fact that they have fundamentally different constraints: there
is no overlap of constraint, and really no communication. The medium
of the discussion is part
of the problem: it structures itself around the 'topics' for debate,
and then it becomes a matter of not making oneself vulnerable within
that frame (this is what Bohm advocated avoiding). Yet for
communication (or dialogue) to take place between
these people, mutual vulnerability (I suggest) would have to be the
starting point. The discussion is also framed by the history and
reputation established through the each participant's published work.

One of the reasons why I mentioned the theological work (and why I
think this is important) is that it is much harder to talk about
theology without making oneself vulnerable - or at least, an
invulnerable theology comes across as dogmatism... of the kind that in
this instance, is most clearly exemplified by Dawkins!

What's missing is usually our vulnerability.

Best wishes,


Dr. Mark William Johnson
Institute of Learning and Teaching
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
University of Liverpool

Phone: 07786 064505

Pedro C. Marijuán
Grupo de Bioinformación / Bioinformation Group
Instituto Aragonés de Ciencias de la Salud
Centro de Investigación Biomédica de Aragón (CIBA)
Avda. San Juan Bosco, 13, planta X
50009 Zaragoza, Spain
Tfno. +34 976 71 3526 (& 6818)

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