Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sujatha Das on data, information, knowledge, and wisdom

Jim Ulvog has expanded my thinking on Narrative Science and what the company does. You'll recall that Narrative Science takes raw data and turns it into a readable story. Ulvog notes that this is one example of "creative visualization." He has previously discussed other examples:

I’ve discussed rap videos to explain economics, the federal budget illustrated on a one-page chart, and using one map to show the destruction of Napoleon’s army during his invasion of Russia. That one map does a better job of telling the story that a 1,000 word article and far faster than a 100 page book.

In essence, Narrative Science and the economic rappers and the Euro-centric mapmakers are all converting data into information.

But actually, they're doing much more.

In July 2007, Sujatha Das defined four words - data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. I was familiar with the definitions of the first two words - data is raw stuff, while information is (in Das' words) "data plus conceptual commitments and interpretations."

Das then goes on to define knowledge. Here is an excerpt of the definition (read the rest here):

Knowledge is a subset of information. But it is a subset that has been extracted, filtered, or formatted in a very special way.

Using this definition, it's more appropriate to say that Narrative Science et al do not provide information - they provide knowledge.

But Das defines one more term.

Wisdom...is the application of knowledge expressed in principles to arrive at prudent, sagacious decisions about conflicting situations.

Without wisdom, the other steps are meaningless. After all, Narrative Science can provide us with an easy-to-read digest of a company's quarterly performance, but what do we do with that knowledge once we have gained it?
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