Chaos in the Brickyard, from “To Know, but Not Understand” | David Weinberger | The Atlantic

Science moving from (i) hypothesis-first then data-second, towards (ii) data-first then theory-building-second, says David Weinberger in an edited excerpt from his new book.

In 1963, Bernard K. Forscher of the Mayo Clinic complained in a now famous letter … Titled Chaos in the Brickyard, the letter warned that the new generation of scientists was too busy churning out bricks — facts — without regard to how they go together. Brickmaking, Forscher feared, had become an end in itself. ”  […]

… the sort of brickyard Dr. Forscher deplored — information presented without hypothesis, theory, or edifice — except far larger because the good doctor could not have foreseen the networking of brickyards.

Scientific knowledge is taking on properties of its new medium, becoming like the network in which it lives.

Indeed, networked fact-based brickyards are a growth industry. [….]

There are three basic reasons scientific data has increased to the point that the brickyard metaphor now looks 19th century.

  • First, the economics of deletion have changed. We used to throw out most of the photos we took with our pathetic old film cameras [….]. Now, it’s often less expensive to store them all on our hard drive (or at some website) than it is to weed through them.
  • Second, the economics of sharing have changed. [….] The Internet makes it far easier to share what’s in our digital basements. … [Innovators] … created its own technical protocol for sharing terabytes of data over the Net, so that a single source isn’t responsible for pumping out all the information; the process of sharing is itself shared across the network.
  • Third, computers have become exponentially smarter. [editorial paragraphing added]

Edited excerpt as “To Know, but Not Understand” | David Weinberger | Jan. 3, 2012 | The Atlantic at href=”

To Know, but Not Understand: David Weinberger on Science and Big Data - David Weinberger - Technology - The Atlantic