Information, misinformation disinformation: Copenhagen interlude

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Danish Royal School of Library and Information Science, now part of the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Humanities, to act as part of the committee for the defence of the doctoral thesis of Sille Obelitz Søe.

The thesis, entitled “The urge to detect, the need to clarify: Gricean perspectives on information, misinformation and disinformation”, presented a philosophical analysis of the ideas information and its dark side: misinformation (false or misleading) and disinformation (deliberately false or misleading). Although at first seemingly a purely theoretical exercise, it has the potential to inform attempts to create artificial systems with the intelligence to analyse information and distinguish true from false, helpful from misleading. The thesis was very strong theoretically, presenting – I am told with those more qualified than I to judge – an original contribution as much to the philosophy of information as in information studies. Hopefully its findings will appear in the near future as journal articles.

poster copyThe defence took a form unusual to those of us used to the British “three people having a discussion in an office” format. It was public for a start, in a lecture theatre filled with the candidate’s friends and family, as well as academic colleagues. The candidate gave a short presentation, and then I, and the other two members of the committee, took it in turns to come onto the stage and engage in one-to-one debate with the candidate for 20 minutes or so. Thankfully, for me at least, he proceedings were conducted entirely in English, and the lengthy thesis was also written in English as is the norm in the Nordic countries. Nonetheless, I am grateful to my co-examiners, Jack Andersen, from the Royal School, and Patrick Blackburn, from the University of Roskilde, and to the moderator of the event, Trine Schreiber, for steering me through the process.

I used my debating time to talk about the philosophical basis for the thesis, and particularly about the influence of Karl Popper and Luciano Floridi. I also discussed with Sille the potential implications for practice; this thesis being one of those which support Kurt Lewin’s aphorisms that “there is nothing so practical as a good theory” and that “research that produces nothing but books will not suffice”.

Post defence celebrations
Post defence celebrations

So, congratulations to Sille, and to her co-supervisors, Jens-Erik Mai from the Royal School, and Erik J. Olsson from Lund University, Sweden. I was reminded again that the Nordic countries set a particularly good example of co-supervision of doctoral students, across both institutional and national borders.

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