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Integration of data


Information overload. A crude look at the whole
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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It occurs to me that as the means of disseminating so-called information have multiplied, through the, especially through the digital revolution, the concern has been mainly with distribution, generation of more bits, distribution of bits, feeling sorry for people that don't get enough bits and so on; rather than concern with quality, and with using so-called information to increase our stock of knowledge and understanding and maybe add a few grains of wisdom. And, I've argued that we need a… a better class of people working as skilled intermediaries to extract knowledge and understanding and maybe a little bit of wisdom from this huge welter of bits that assails us. So many of these… of these bits, so many pieces of information are false or irrelevant or badly organized or otherwise really unsuitable for doing much for us, and the reward system for people who do a really wonderful job of extracting knowledge and understanding or wisdom, the reward system is… is skewed in the wrong way. If left just to the so-called free market, it's mainly skewed toward entertainment or toward something that's narrowly utilitarian for some business firm or set of business firms. But where is the responsibility for actually extracting advances in knowledge and understanding? I think that the reward system needs some other input. Private foundations, for example, could play a big role, in subsidizing quality work of this kind, because we see that a lot of journalistic work, a lot of editorial work, a lot of anthologies and reviews and so on are not really very well done, and the rewards for doing them are not particularly great and the… and the rewards for doing them well are usually no better than for doing them badly—maybe even less good. I think that's something that the whole society needs to be aware of and to… and to work on. What kind of concerns are… are met in this sort of… in the work of such intermediaries? We can't have the sizeable rewards restricted just to entertainment value or to something that a particular person or firm is willing to pay for for narrowly utilitarian reasons. And I think that the interdisciplinary work of the Santa Fe Institute is a very good example of something that's badly needed, we're actually helping, I think, with this job, by taking material from many different sciences and synthesizing it into new insights. But in general I don't believe that's being done very well, or that the reward system exists for doing it very well.

New York-born physicist Murray Gell-Mann (1929-2019) was known for his creation of the eightfold way, an ordering system for subatomic particles, comparable to the periodic table. His discovery of the omega-minus particle filled a gap in the system, brought the theory wide acceptance and led to Gell-Mann's winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969.

Listeners: Geoffrey West

Geoffrey West is a Staff Member, Fellow, and Program Manager for High Energy Physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is also a member of The Santa Fe Institute. He is a native of England and was educated at Cambridge University (B.A. 1961). He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1966 followed by post-doctoral appointments at Cornell and Harvard Universities. He returned to Stanford as a faculty member in 1970. He left to build and lead the Theoretical High Energy Physics Group at Los Alamos. He has numerous scientific publications including the editing of three books. His primary interest has been in fundamental questions in Physics, especially those concerning the elementary particles and their interactions. His long-term fascination in general scaling phenomena grew out of his work on scaling in quantum chromodynamics and the unification of all forces of nature. In 1996 this evolved into the highly productive collaboration with James Brown and Brian Enquist on the origin of allometric scaling laws in biology and the development of realistic quantitative models that analyse the influence of size on the structural and functional design of organisms.

Tags: Santa Fe Institute

Duration: 4 minutes, 43 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010