Home About Subscribe Search Member Area

Humanist Discussion Group

< Back to Volume 33

Humanist Archives: April 14, 2020, 8:20 a.m. Humanist 33.763 - Big Data and Truth: other things that information can be

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 763.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

        Date: 2020-04-13 12:17:37+00:00
        From: Jeremy Hunsinger 
        Subject: Big Data and Truth

I outline a few of them here:
In a paper called Big Capta, that argues that we should be talking
about most of our informational world as Capta and that capta has
different ethical requirements .

below is a section from the preprint I made available on researchgate:

The Other Modes of Information

It is evident that the word “data” has become universalized and
hegemonized in public and research discourses, used in many places
where better terms exist. Data as a hegemonic term has become part of
the lingua franca of science. Data is one type of information.
Information may be any number of other things; acta, capta, cognata,
communicata, sumpta, and inventa are sometimes closer to what we are
dealing with “data” than data is. Universalized “data” as data is
closer to a myth than a reality. We live in a richly descriptive
universe of conceptualization with the discourse of “data” floating as
a position absolving people from confronting many problems with their
use of “data.” It is time to move on to use the broad array of terms
available to us.

We should look very carefully about the claims we can make about data,
acta, capta, cognata, communicata, sumpta, and inventa and acknowledge
the reasons that data tends to be hegemonic which is for some the lack
of moral or ethical claims one can make about it. We should
acknowledge using the word “data” disempowers the people and
institutions from which we derive “data.” In acknowledging that the
use of “data” is explicitly disempowering, we are left with the
question of what we should call this information. One answer is that
the majority of our information should be called capta, but there are
other forms of information. Some of the diverse types of information
are part of common scholarly parlance, like acta, others are invented
like cognata, while others like sumpta and capta have been around and
are unused in many fields. In this section of the chapter, acta,
cognata, communicata, and inventa will be briefly discussed to allow
people to see some of the richness of possible descriptions and
possible mereological array of relations.

Acta from the Latin means acts or transactions including the creation
of an official record. So, acta implies something created as a record
or a transaction. Acta then is information of record, where it
represents the changes of the system. Much of what we currently call
“data” could also be better called acta, as it records a change of
state. Many databases, for example, record the changes of state and
thus would be better thought of as actabases. Acta is created by
either the system in question or by subjects to the system, as the
acta is usually a requirement of the system. Acta has significant
import to our society, governance, and general relations because it
records the change of state that occurs. It records the abnormalities
of a system, which then lead to considering the basis for norms and
normative judgments. Acta is important to most surveillance because it
denotes and records changes; this sort of record keeping is the basis
of most surveillance. Data exists in surveillance also, but the data
of surveillance would be the unchanging things and are not even noted,
such as if we imagine a surveillance camera pointing down a hallway,
the walls themselves would be data which are never mentioned unless
they are graffitied or otherwise changed. The walls are a “given.” The
transaction in the halls, such as colleagues arguing, is likely acta
and later perhaps capta as they are interpreted.

Hayden and Sansonnet-Hayden jokingly proposed cognata as an attempt to
argue against capta and yet still recognizes problems with data for
anthropology and similar interpretive disciplines. Cognata
acknowledges a mixing of cognition with information, much like there
is with every analysis. Cognition is present in the creation, the
collection, and the analysis of information. Cognata also entails that
several other psychological factors play a part in the “cognizing” of
“observation” (Hayden and Sansonnet-Hayden 2001). The humorous intent
of their proposal belies the reality of the attempts at objectivity in
anthropology are much like the attempts in any other field;
reflexivity is about as much as one can hope, as objectivity is the
real boojum (their term). In their jest against capta, they reify the
problem of objectivity, indicating some of the normative strictures
cognata has. Fundamentally, cognata would be a quasi-object (Latour
1993) or a distributed cognition indicating the inclusion of human
interests in the information present, which would require more ethical
diligence than if the information were merely objective data
(Hunsinger 2009, 2011, 2017). Cognata in the surveillance example
would be many parts of the current system but also the information in
the prior system and the next system. Cognata might be what leads us
to put a surveillance camera into the hallway. Indeed, empirically
founded, suspicion could be called cognata. If we used cognata, we
would have to recognize much more substantively the work that
forethought, afterthought, and thought, in general, brings about
regarding observations and computations. Cognata is intertwined with
our own or other’s subjectivities in the past, present, and future and
thus requires much more thought about its implications (Guattari 1995,
2000). Information arising from dialogue or discussions among people
is called communicata (Walsh 1989). Communicata, as Walsh describes
it, is what results from the added inputs that one might find coming
from dialogue in government panels or citizen science endeavors. Much
social research and all science arise from communicata in some respect
because it is part of “the great conversation” which is contemporary
and past systems of knowledge generation and sharing. Recognizing the
value of communicata as a dominant information type would help us
overcome some of the traditional biases present in research, such as
the fictum of the “lone researchers” and associated topics. While
communicata only arises in discursive contexts in Walsh, it is
possible to see how it could aid significantly in helping the public
understanding of science.

A rarer mode of information is inventa. Inventa originated in
Schiller’s humanism and used recently. However, inventa seems to have
some use today to indicate the form of information that arises through
practices such as the dérive/drift and related/unrelated undirected
practices. Schiller describes it below:

We shall have to accommodate also a variety of inventa, things
stumbled or hit upon and found, though we may feel doubtful whether
the mere fact that they are somehow there, yields us any guarantee
that they can be put to essential uses. (Schiller 1933)

Even though it has not been used extensively elsewhere, conceptually,
it has possibilities to help us understand the processes of big data,
which sometimes has inventa-like findings.

There are other modes of information and descriptions of information
in our discursive world. This cursory introduction to a few of them is
intended only to allow one to use them and to think about whether we
should be using data as hegemonic term or whether it might be more
rigorous, clearer, and more useful. Of course, data does have fewer
ethical considerations due to its “objective” and “factitious”
ideological construction; but the question then should be whether
intentionally or not we should be using the ideologies of language to
avoid ethical issues.

Unsubscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted
List posts to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
List info and archives at at: http://dhhumanist.org
Listmember interface at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted/
Subscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/membership_form.php

Editor: Willard McCarty (King's College London, U.K.; Western Sydney University, Australia)
Software designer: Malgosia Askanas (Mind-Crafts)

This site is maintained under a service level agreement by King's Digital Lab.