Today, I declined an invitation to present at a conference. Unfortunately, with my LOEX presentation and a (possible) poster at ALA, I simply don’t have any more money left for travel (until July). That being said, I thought it might be fun to take the presentation I submitted and turn it into a paper…using my blog to document the writing, research, and thought processes. So, over the next few weeks I’ll hash things out here and see what happens…starting with the proposal itself.
My proposed paper
So, this is the proposal that was accepted:
TITLE: Is misinformation information? Information fluency and nature of truth.
ABSTRACT: One of the primary IF skills is the ability to critically evaluate information.. Unfortunately, this task is complicated when students must distinguish information from non-information. This presentation focuses on a semantic definition of information and the need to address false information as a part of any IF pedagogy.
INSTITUTIONAL LEVEL TARGETED: Program/Degree
TYPE OF SESSION: Individual
DESCRIPTION: One of the primary goals of Information Fluency (IF) is the ability to collect and critically evaluate the information relevant to a particular need. Unfortunately, this task is complicated by the ever-expanding amount of data available digitally and the difficulty in distinguishing information from non-information: misinformation, false information, contradictions, and other types of non-information are abundant online. Moreover, certain subjective conceptions of truth negatively impact students’ abilities to sort true from false information. This presentation focuses on the importance of addressing misinformation and false information as a part of any successful information fluency pedagogy. Taking a cue from the philosophy of information, a semantic definition of information will be advocated as a framework for evaluating the IF curriculum. Further, a non-subjective conception of truth will be explored as a means of demarcating information from non-information. Competing theories of data, truth, information, and knowledge will be explored and critically evaluated for their applicability to information literacy programs.
Genesis of an idea
A few things motivated this project:
- For all the talk of ‘information literacy’ it’s surprising how few people can give a coherent definition of ‘information’,
- Does information track the truth, and if so, how does that affect the concept of information literacy? (put another way, is “false information” a contradiction and what does that mean for IL?)
- I have a general worry about anti-realist conceptions of truth that show up in common approaches to information literacy.
- ACRL standards don’t mention truth, but Standard Three requires an account.
2. Is misinformation information?
This is something I’ve yet to decide on, so it is the most active area of inquiry. I’m really partial to Floridi’s work in the philosophy of information, and he advocates that truth is a necessary condition for information, but I simply haven’t read enough to make a decision yet. As it stands, I take information to be well-formed, meaningful data (with a few important corollaries). Now, is information well-formed, meaningful, factual or true data? I get stuck here because I agree with a minimalist, semantic conception of truth, but I’m not sure that all well-formed, meaningful data are necessarily semantic things. I’ll hash this out one way or the other in coming weeks.
3. Truth in Librarianship
4. ACRL Standard What?
The terms “true” or “truth” or “fact” never appear in ACRL Information Literacy Standard Three. But, the need for a robust account of truth are implied. For example, Standard 3, Outcome 2(a) stresses the ability to examine and compare “information from various sources in order to evaluate reliability,
validity3, accuracy, authority, timeliness, and point of view or bias”. 2(b) points to the “structure and logic of supporting arguments” These evaluative criteria…by definition…must be comparative. Accurate compared to what? Bias away from what? Reliability to what end? Without a robust account of truth or fact, the whole nature of evaluation becomes pointless or, worse, relativistic. So, in the coming weeks I’ll discuss how and why a realist approach to truth and information is the only way to meet ACRL Standard Three.
So, there you have it. I’m taking a presentation I won’t be giving, hashing it out on the blog, and turning the result into a paper for eventual publication (fingers crossed!). I’ll start by addressing the four points in greater detail (maybe one a week?), but things may change. I may change my mind in light of new evidence or argument, I may get stuck on one point and give up, I may forget the whole thing entirely…we’ll see what happens.
1 Labaree, R. V. & Scimeca, R. (2008). The philosophical concept of truth in librarianship. Library Quarterly 78(1): 43-70.
2 Budd, J. (2011). Meaning, truth, and information: prolegomena to a theory. Journal of Documentation, 67(1): 56-74.
3 Information can’t be valid; only arguments can be valid. Logic 101.