The ethics of information and knowledge – an ISKO UK seminar

by | Mar 20, 2018 | Digital workplace, Information Management, Search

Yesterday I attended a seminar organised by ISKO UK on the subject of Knowledge Organisation and Ethics. It was, without any doubt, one of the most stimulating seminars I have attended. I didn’t have just one ‘light bulb’ moment – they kept firing off every few minutes over the course of more than two hours. The timing of the event was fortuitous given the attention being paid to the activities of Cambridge Analytics, but the event provided a much broader range of topics than personal data management.

First up was Patrick Lambe (Straits Knowledge) who managed to make a direct connection between Aristotle and the importance of having an ethical framework for the management of information and knowledge. Patrick presented a set of 10 C’s for how information and knowledge professionals should consider the impact of ethics on their daily work. Patrick was followed by David Clarke (Synaptica) who spoke about the work of the St. George’s House programme of consultations, specifically one that was held on January on Democracy in a Post-Truth Information Age. Helen Lippell, a consultant taxonomist, then gave us more to consider in terms of how a taxonomy could reveal or conceal information and the decisions that consultants have to take when working with clients about whether what they are being asked to do is ethical. This theme of the role of information professionals in making ethical issues visible and working themselves within a set of ethical principles was then taken up by Nick Poole (CILIP).

As it happens I’m in the process of reading Daniel Ellsberg’s book The Doomsday Machine. You may recall that Ellsberg released what became known as the Pentagon Papers, which somewhat displeased Richard Nixon. The revelations are extraordinary, especially the section about the fact that the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (the basis on which the USA would strike first) was not circulated to the President of the United States. This is just one of the many ‘paradoxes’ (for want of a better word) that are presented in this book, and I find it very difficult to decision on which side I should come down on in an ethical consideration of the power of information.

It was good to see a professional organisation being ready to tackle the very complex issues of information and knowledge ethics, and assemble a very experienced panel of presenters. The main outcome for me was to start me thinking about the ethics of personalised search, but that will be the subject of a post in due course.


Martin White