It is appalling the number of manuscripts we receive for review for Knowledge Organization, that are about things like ontologies and taxonomies and domain analyses, and that cite absolutely no literature from the domain of knowledge organization.

Usually my first intuitive reaction is to think the authors simply were negligent in submitting their siloed papers to us without checking that our journal is published by a scientific society that might expect its own science to be used. Sometimes I have a second intuitive reaction that the authors are so siloed they do not even know that domains other than their own exist and have their own literatures. I suppose both of these are true to some extent.

Lately I have come to see that there is increasingly no connection–no synthesis, no syndesis, not even any syncopation–in the evolution of theory. I think this has something to do with the habits of researchers to conduct so-called literature reviews online using Google Scholar, or worse just Google alone, and never bothering even to go to the many multi-disciplinary indexing services available online through most research libraries (this ought to be demonstrable empirically; perhaps one could take a random sample of published articles and actually search for relevant literature? Never mind that this is the responsibility of peer-reviewers!). Internet resources usually provide something quasi-relevant (remember Patrick Wilson’s excoriation that relevance often means “satisfactory”?–see Two Kinds of Power), enough to fill out the tiny tweet-like excuses for paragraphs most people manage to type these days. But this is no proper approach to science.

Theory requires connection and connection requires sequence in human thought. In order to make sense of an empirical observation all of the science available that can be brought to bear must be connected. To move that empirical observation forward as an hypothesis, or to move the hypothesis forward as a theory requires that observations be classified cumulatively. It all requires “syn”–synthesis, syndesis, syncopation.

If either of the people reading this blog are considering contributing to the science of knowledge organization let them hie at once to the ISKO website and use the powerful new KO literature search tool: While they’re at it, let’s urge them to go to the ISKO member’s portal at Ergon-Verlag where they now can find KO from 1993 to the present and AIKO from 2006 to the present (and soon will find the entire backlog).

Posted July 20, 2014 by lazykoblog in theory

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A little mystery

Accuracy in all aspects of scholarship is critical. It seems increasingly to me, as a journal editor, that authors are taking less care with citations than ever before. It’s a bit like what we hear about pilots getting lax because they know their planes have autopilot—authors no longer make extensive files of source publications because they can view an abstract online with a couple of clicks and use one or another citation service to get automatic citations. One problem for another time is how this seems to lead to ritual citation. But more to the point of this post, it leads to errant citations, if the author is pasting from a citation service (or worse, from another paper whose author pasted it, etc., etc.) rather than keying a citation from a source document. Of course, the story I’m about to tell might just not have anything to do with any of this; I’ve no way of knowing how this happened.

When we prepare an issue of Knowledge Organization for publication we do several things that involve cross-checking for accuracy. One of them is verifying all of the citations in the text and the accompanying references in the reference list. Sometimes, despite having three different people working on this (as a cross-check, of course) something will slip through the cracks and we’ll find ourselves at the twelfth hour having to hold up production because a mystery develops. This one had to do with a citation. The issue was ready for press and we realized nobody had answered the question about what this abbreviated citation really was for:

Ranganathan, S. R. 1967. Areas for research in library and information science (development of library science. 6). Library science 4: 235-93.

Immediately one question was obvious, and that was why there was something like a series statement in the title portion of a journal article citation. I asked my colleagues to verify the citation and was told nothing like that could be found anywhere. We all tried looking it up in various ways. It seemed very curious that we could not find this citation online (but then again, 1967 was eons ago in digital journal time). It also was not possible to locate any journal with exactly the title Library Science from this period.

I decided to search the catalog of the library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I used to work there years ago and I knew the collection was nearly exhaustive in information science. Also, UIUC is relatively nearby, so it would be possible to actually go there or send someone (or beg someone there) to look at the source if necessary. What I found in their online catalog was a journal called Library Science With a Slant to Documentation, published in India by SRELS (Sarada Ranganathan Endowment for Library Science) beginning in 1964 and ending in 1999, all of which seemed promising. However, I could not find a digitized copy of this journal anywhere by searching online. Volume 4 was dated 1967, but there was no explanation for the odd series statement, and there was no way to find a table of contents for the journal online. (I thought briefly of those halcyon days when long tables full of bound periodical indexes were at my fingertips, with citations stretching back more than a century; and the closed stacks of bound volumes were just through that little door over there ….)

I decided to turn to our ISKO colleagues by placing a notice on ISKO-L. Within a few hours I had several responses from around the world, acknowledging that we had found the correct title, and apparently the citation had employed a formerly standard title abbreviation. Paper copies of the journal were located. And even more oddly, European colleagues were able to find the digitized article online using Google. Now, why couldn’t we do that from the U.S.? I also heard from others in the U.S. who couldn’t find it online! How bizarre!

The next mystery arising concerned the phrase “library and information science,” because several people pointed out that Ranganathan would not have used that expression. Eventually a copy of the article was received from Kothi Raghavan; I’ll reproduce the first page here:


Sure enough, there is a series statement in parentheses within the title, and the title does not say “and information science” and the journal title is Library Science With a Slant to Documentation.

The upshot is there were at least three inaccuracies in the original citation, so it was good thing we chased it down rather than creating a bibliographic ghost by publishing it in erroneous form. But it also was a lesson in the pitfalls of relying too heavily only on our digitized sources. As I tell my doctoral students, who inevitably groan and refuse to believe me, a scholar has to look at the actual sources to verify their veracity.

The mystery was resolved and the correct citation appeared in Knowledge Organization. Thanks to Kathryn La Barre, Gerhard Riesthuis, Thomas Dousa, Vivien Petras, Joe Tennis, F.J. Devadason and Kothi Raghavan for helping resolve this little mystery.

And remember, apparently, caveat emptor applies to citations.

Posted July 13, 2014 by lazykoblog in journals

Doubly thrilled

Classification interaction is empirically demonstrated, and I’m thrilled about that. For the “Big Data” workshop at SIG/CR I proposed a preliminary survey research project in which a sample of the nine million UDC numbers in the WorldCat would be used to match deconstructed components of the UDC expressions to content-designated components of the respective bibliographic records. The purpose was to learn about the interrelationship between a faceted classification and the artifacts it represents. All of the variables (except age of work) were nominal-level, so I used Chi-squared to look for statistically-significant correlations. It was thrilling to find correlations all through the study. Results (and definitions of all of these terms!) are in the paper “Big Classification: Using the Empirical Power of Classification Interaction” in the 2013 SIG/CR Proceedings (or will be). The outcome is preliminary but exciting nonetheless.

But just when I thought it couldn’t get any better I took one more look at the largest results table and realized it was revealing a network among the correlations. I was therefore doubly thrilled (with some coaching from Laura Ridenour) to be able to create a visualization of that network structure using Gephi 0.8.2. Here is an early version (not the one that appears in the paper):bigudc

just in case anybody’s paying attention

I haven’t made a new post to this blog in quite awhile.

However, I have been sitting at my desk today for seven hours now working on Knowledge Organization. I probably have another seven hours to go to get caught up. Not including editing the next issue.

Just saying ….

Posted November 22, 2013 by lazykoblog in Uncategorized

Making it count 2

About ten days ago there was a breathless story on the evening news about how “more information” appearing on New York City fast food menus was not being used by consumers. Told that sandwich A had 150 calories and sandwich B had 850 they were all buying sandwich B. How could this be?, wondered the newscaster, that people overlooked “information.” All of the talking heads interviewed were chefs, consumer advocates, and dietitians.

Not one knowledge organization specialist. Not one commentary on “concepts” of food, or the problems of homonymy and synonymy and meronymy, not one comment on cognition or cognitive overload or navigating networks pathways. A missed opportunity I think; we should’ve been right there, commenting.

In last week’s Economist is a story about “Ad scientists” with a headline image that looks an awful lot like some of my WordStat™ visualizations–lots of little boxes with network lines connecting them in pretty colors; all of it cast as terminological catch in a fishnet. The story begins with the example of what happens when someone searches “tennis balls” using three different search engines. Some of the results are said to be “organic” and others are paid links.

Now, why are no knowledge organization scientists cited in this paper?

How could it be that searchers are thrown off by overload, in which case they turn to the first available organic link (Patrick Wilson’s “relevance as means-to-an-end”; cognitive overload, etc. etc.)

Sigh ….

Posted July 29, 2013 by lazykoblog in cognition, KO, ontology

Making it count

Apologies before I begin–as I’ve pointed out before I have my Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and when I was there it was still the bedrock home of empirical research methods. We were learning to conceive of the applications more broadly all the time, but it was the substrate on which everything else seemed to have been built.

I wish knowledge organization were thus. One of the reasons I have been so engaged in the CIDOC-CRM and FRBRoo operations has been the empirical basis on which both ontologies are built.

I often teach doctoral seminars in knowledge organization and I always ask the students to produce original research that will contribute to theory. They do, and I’m proud of the work they do. Often when they ask what sorts of things they ought to study I tell them I read The Economist whenever I travel by air, and that I’m always shaking my head as I read about Prof. this and Dr. that and control group this and factorial experiment that. It seems there is substantial research in the world based on empirical premises. I’m always wondering how we in knowledge organization can get on those pages.

Here is an example from The Economist dated June 22, 2013, p. 83 (Safe Driving: Keep your mind on the road) (I was in Portland, Oregon, for my 40th reunion at Lewis & Clark College), about hand’s-free texting and how it is more distracting that using a mobile phone. Some folks at the University of Utah divided 102 volunteers into three groups and asked them to perform a set of tasks. They wore a hat that recorded mental workload. And among the groups the treatment variable that shifted was what they did–nothing, listening to a radio, phoning a friend, texting, etc. Some sat at computers, some used simulators, and some were in actual motor vehicles. Talk about a factorial experiment! Brilliant!

I’ll leave it to you to discover the results in The Economist. But let’s think about this sort of work in our own domain. It is rare indeed. Notable exceptions include La Barre’s testing of facets in online catalogs and Milonas’ partial replication of it. We have a lot of excellent descriptive research including my own work on instantiation and Greenberg’s replication of it among botanists; and Kipp’s landmark work on social tagging.

Let’s take up the cause of creating more experimental work. Let’s get in The Economist. (The closest I’ve come so far, was my study showing that social taggers display a bandwagon effect, which was picked up by the Globe and Mail from a CAIS conference, but they didn’t ever report on whatever it was that attracted their attention.

Posted July 14, 2013 by lazykoblog in research

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Noesis revisited

IMG_0158 - Version 2Here is a sign I saw recently. It was in a public space and in a country where I had never visited before, but then again it was in a university hall, so I can’t really say that I was so culturally shocked that I didn’t comprehend it. Still, I took it’s picture, didn’t I?

I had a lot of contemplative time that day because I didn’t really speak the language in which most of the discussion was taking place, so although I could read the slides people were showing and sort of follow along, I also had time to let my mind drift. I looked at this set of images, and I laughed a bit to myself and resolved to take a picture when the next break came along. Then I got to thinking about Otto von Neurath and his attempt to use visualization to advance human communication, in particular to use images as a sort of universal language. One supposes it is from that impulse that we get the confusing array of icons on the dashboards of new automobiles today. The point is that even simple images, like those shown here, can be confusing.

That brings me back always to phenomenology and the notion of noesis, that humans perceive through ego acts, or, to try to put it more simply, we see new things always through a lens of those things we have experienced in our past. The reason I laughed (not quite out loud) when I looked up at this sign was that I read in my head “no cigarettes, no radios, and no hamburgers.” Well, why not? The cigarette is clear enough I suppose. But to my unfocused gaze that image in the middle looks like the kind of radio we all had when I was a teenager. You’d set it in the sand near your ear so you could listen to it but it wouldn’t bother the other people on the beach, the sound of the surf providing useful cover. And if that isn’t a hamburger on the right I don’t know what it is! Ok, with a large soda, but obviously no fries. Maybe this means “no carnivores”?

Well that’s the majority of my point I think, that we simply cannot take a simple notion of “concept” seriously as a concrete entity because there just is no such thing. All concepts, no matter how simple, are perceived along a zillion personal continua. Knowledge organizations can provide frameworks but precision will always escape us.

Which is why we need to move to faceted systems–not categorized systems, but true facets–that embrace contexts, because it is the contexts that mediate individual perceptions. A faceted KOS that permitted contextual entry first and conceptual second would allow users to gauge the parameters of noeitic mediation involved in a given search, or in a given set of assigned semantic concepts. Just for fun, here is the uncropped image. I admiIMG_0158t it isn’t the best example; still it shows a column, in fact the top of a column in an industrial strucutre with cinderblock walls and an airduct there on the ceiling–that makes it relatively clear this is some sort of public space, like a classroom, and that also makes it a bit more clear why those certain things are prohibited.

I know now that thing in the middle is a mobile phone, because they don’t want people chattering. The sandwich and drink on the right probably mean “no eating or drinking” (see, I did get it, after considering the context). Still, it would be more useful to show someone with a full mouth I think and that hash mark across it.

This was in Rio de Janeiro, by the way, at the recent ISKO Brazil conference held at Fundação Getulio Vargas: Portal FGV.


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