-------- Mensaje reenviado --------

Asunto:         Re: Scientific communication
Fecha:  Sun, 16 Oct 2016 15:07:25 +0100
De:     Mark Johnson <johnsonm...@gmail.com>
Para: Pedro C. Marijuan <pcmarijuan.i...@aragon.es>, fis <fis@listas.unizar.es>


Dear Pedro,

Thank you for bringing this pback down to earth again. I would like to
challenge something in your first comment - partly because contained
within it are issues which connect the science of information with the
politics of publishing and elite education.

Your 'bet' that "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." is of course right.
However, there is a political/critical issue as to who has ACCESS to
the chamber with the Brownian motion.

It is common for elite private schools in the UK (and I'm sure
elsewhere) to say "exams aren't important to us. What matters are the
things around the edges of formal education... character-building
activities, contact with the elite, etc". What they mean is that they
don't worry about exams because their processes of pre-selection and
'hot-housing' mean that all their students will do well in exams
anyway. But nobody would argue that exams are not important for
personal advancement in today's society, would they?

Similarly, elite universities may say "published papers are not that
important - what happens face-to-face is what matters!". Those
universities do not have to worry so much about publishing in
high-quality journals because (often) the editors of those journals
are employed by those universities. But when, at least in the last 10
years or so, did anybody get an academic job in a university with no

I draw attention to this not because it seems like a stitch-up
(although it is). It is because it skews what you call the "Brownian
motion". At worst we end up with the kind of prejudice that was
expressed by Professor Tim Hunt last year
More fundamentally, the doubts and uncertainties of the many are very
important, and in this system, they are not only not heard, but in the
increasingly rarefied and and specialised exchanges in the "Brownian
motion chamber", as the elite scholars endlessly discuss ontological
arguments for the existence of information (!), everyone else is
effectively locked-out.

The economic crisis and the economists is a good example of this kind
of pathology. It was pretty obvious that the economic system was
heading for trouble quite some time before 2008; it was also obvious
to a few economists on the fringes (who became very unpopular) that
economics was in a mess many years before, concocted out of spurious
mathematical models and a published discourse which would admit little
else. As Tony Lawson says here (this is worth watching:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_vMLHis5cE), after the crisis it's
easier to claim that economics is in a mess. But doing something about
it is a different matter.

As a side note about Brownian motion: Tony Lawson is based in
Cambridge as has, over the last 20 years, held a bi-weekly seminar
series open to all called the Cambridge Realist Workshop. Some of the
brightest minds in the University attend these. They all have deep
discussions about economics, ontology, society... basically, about
"everyone else". But "everyone else" isn't in the room.

This is the problem. Were "everyone else" to be there, for it to be
truly open, honest and democratic.... I think we would have a better
science of society, information, education, etc... A small step to
achieving this is to communicate our doubts in different, more open
and more creative ways.

Best wishes,


On 14 October 2016 at 13:25, Pedro C. Marijuan
<pcmarijuan.i...@aragon.es> wrote:
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

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
Email: johnsonm...@gmail.com
Blog: http://dailyimprovisation.blogspot.com

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)

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

Phone: 07786 064505
Email: johnsonm...@gmail.com
Blog: http://dailyimprovisation.blogspot.com

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