by Menakhem Ben-Yami*
Note: This article is a personal opinion piece by Menakhem Ben-Yami, copied here by permission of the owner of the copyright, and has been protected from free editing. It is essentially an extended quotation rather than a wikicity article. If you wish to comment on it please click on the "discussion" tab above.
Information is any quantity of knowledge in any form that is shared between or among agents. In my opinion, inert knowledge that is not shared should not be ranked as information. In this respect, information is like money that in order to be of any value must either change hands or otherwise productively used. Money paid to the milkman, saved in a bank, or invested in a business has a value. Money stored in a strongbox has no value, as long as it is not used.
Knowledge in various forms is stored in the nature, and in human products of every sort, and in human minds. Whether it is stored in the annual rings in a tree trunk, or in a new scientific theory, it becomes information only when made available in a form understandable to some people. We all live in an age when distribution of information, because of the accumulating knowledge and its growing availability, and because of its ever-increasing accessibility, plays a tremendous role in all aspects of life. While this explosion of information creates technical, operational, and mental problems, it is a great blessing to education and sciences.
One, and in my opinion, a major problem of our time is the tendency of information to evolutionary speciation, due to increasing numbers of ever narrowing the fields of knowledge, and due to the language it is using. The swelling knowledge keeps splitting in an evolutionary process into more and more disciplines, with rifts between them deepening, and the people specializing in them developing more and more exclusive terminologies and styles. Thus, we have intra-disciplinary information, (physicist to physicist, sociologist to sociologist, etc.), which we sometimes bunch together creating multi-disciplinary information. We are at our weakest where it comes to inter-disciplinary information, which I understand also as trans-disciplinary. I witnessed this weakness on several workshops and conferences intended to be inter-disciplinary, but only managed to be multi-disciplinary. People were talking in parallel, rather than to each other, and as we all know, parallel lines meet, if at all, only in infinity. It seems that true inter-disciplinary exchange of information is still rather scarce than common. So let me extend this workshop’s title by adding the question:
What is inter-disciplinary information? Edit
Why inter-disciplinary information? Edit
Fisheries ecology is the science that deals with marine ecosystems modified by human interference. This interference is quite significant, considering that over 100M MT of marine organisms worth over US$100 billion, are annually extracted from the world’s seas and oceans. Since fisheries ecology supplies the scientific basis for fisheries management and marine resources conservation worldwide, it can be classified as an applied science.
Understanding and description of marine fishery ecosystems require input from at least: marine and fishery biology, genetics, physical and chemical oceanography, marine geology, geography, climatology, meteorology, and socio-economics of fisheries (people and markets), as well as marine research and fishing technologies that in turn involve, among others, electronics, hydroacoustics, and hydrodynamics.
One of the reasons, if not the main one, for recurring failures of institutional fisheries science to provide right advise, is ignoring the role of any of these disciplines by many of the scientists, whose job is to recommend to the authorities in charge the management means and ways concerned. Such disregard is probably caused by the complexity, and insufficient data and knowledge of the marine systems on one hand, and the inappropriate character of the information flowing from the different disciplines, on the other. People, scientists included, tend to deal with things they know of, and stick to the knowledge acquired from their own particular studies and experience. They find it difficult to absorb information, however relevant, from other disciplines, all the more, if such information is presented in an intra-disciplinary style.
This, consequently, leads to linear or two-dimensional concepts and paradigms that try to explain complex systems in simplified terms. Let me continue with this, fishery example: for many decades, now, fluctuations in catches have been explained in terms of fish population dynamics only, as if the only or main cause for fish abundance is fishing pressure. Such approach neglects environmental influences. For instance, ENSO (ElNino Southern Oscillation) alone may reduce the landings of pelagic fish (fish that inhabit off-bottom waters) in SW America by some 4-6M MT, that is by 60-80%. ENSO’s climatic dynamics in atmosphere and the ocean affect in a roundabout manner not only the abundance and availability of Peruvian anchovetas in the Pacific Ocean, but also other fishery resources throughout the World Ocean, as well as various crops on land.
More recently, El Nino events have gained a lot of popularity and may have impressed people whose only tool to look at fish resources has been for years only the discipline of population dynamic. This may help, hopefully, also in other oceanic areas where environmental influences are not as strongly expressed as in the case of ElNino. Now, why this change of attitude, if any? Because the information about ElNino has been produced and widely broadcast in a manner that was accessible and understandable not only to all scientists concerned with fishery ecosystems, but also to administrators, and fishery operators concerned, and because it spurred the latter to start asking questions about the reliability of the population dynamics models.
Menakhem Ben-Yami, Dr h.c. Fisheries Management and Development Advisor 2 Dekel Str., Kiryat Tiv'on 36056, ISRAEL Ph. +972(4)-983-5928; Fx. +972(4)-953-1076 e-mail: benyami AT shani.net