Mere Facts & Data Do Not Constitute Knowledge

Why those who boast of holding the ‘data’ and ‘facts’ are also those likely to be the most clueless.

Years ago I was asked to develop and lead a plan targeting acquisition of a marine and boating consumer products company. During the discovery process I flew to Manhattan in order to interview the senior executives about the overall business state and direction. Being an avid sloop sailor, I was rather excited about the chance to speak with the developers of some of the key equipment I employed on my boat.

When I arrived at the intended conference room and began to speak with the C-level executives prior to the meeting start, it became clear that none of them bore experience in boating, nor afloat work or recreation at all. Upon asking if any of them were boaters, the CEO replied, “I think Earl in Product Development owns a boat.” To which the rest of the team acknowledged, “Yes, Earl owns one, I’ve been on it with him.” or responses of such nature. These were all Harvard Finance MBA trained suit and tie wearers – nothing but undertakers there to embalm and prepare the body for value-extraction and burial. They were perdocent, taught to be more-than-eager to follow the instructions exactly as prescribed and without question. They were quickly-promoted operatives whose mission was to funnel formerly productive asset value to predatory offshore elite stockholders – a whole set of clowns of whom none bore an interest in, nor knew anything about boating. Portraits of fashion models, celebrities, and dead Presidents debarked in various vessels, adorned their conference room walls – mocking them for the betrayal of trust in their name.

The single most toxic thing you can do to a business is appoint its own accountants or information technologists to run it. The perdocent mistakenly conflates a state of holding the data and facts, and following the instructions, with competence in the art of its delivery. Very often, the opposite is true.

The worst thing a university can do is teach confidence interval and p-value skills to candidates who have no idea what inference is, nor how to prosecute an argument. This is like handing binoculars to the driver of a car, so that they can ‘see better’.

The most clueless person in a business is typically the controller or Vice President of Finance. Ironically, despite the fact that this is also the person who holds and knows the most facts and data about the business itself. When I conduct a strategy, the team is required to work very closely with such entities early on, simply because they possess all the data the team initially needs. We will often get along well, because I hold an MBA in Finance from a tier I B-school as well. This reality forces a business’ accountants to also be represented on the strategy team.

But once the data is collected and accounts have been defined, the process of strategy is exposed to devolving into teaching those representatives why Enterprise Resource Planning financial profit & loss pro forma are not sufficient tools to determine the state of a market nor the viable direction of a business. I have found myself at times pointing out that the scope of the project did not include teaching accountants how to be strategists and business leaders. As well, I have had to often find ways to insulate the strategy team from being forced to use their methods – techniques which will merely serve to show that driving in-context sales, capturing low-hanging fruit, and cost-cutting are the appropriate next steps.

Why Those Who Boast of Holding the ‘Data’ and ‘Facts’ are Also Likely to Be the Most Clueless

Among my Folleagues I have been known from time to time, to issue the following apothegm.

Data must be denatured into information.
Information must be transmuted into intelligence.
Intelligence is the first sound basis from which to plan or take action.

In order to comprehend what these tenets mean let’s then delve more into the philosophies behind this, shall we?

I. Data must be denatured into information.

Taking data to 3rd normal and relative-to-context form is taught in database development courses no doubt.1 However, denaturation of data requires expertise in the dynamics of the data structures themselves. A faithfulness in observing them over time, a knowledge of human nature, or having observed such structures under similar business dynamics. Denaturation is the process of removing the natural background noise, influences, and confounding factors from the raw data itself.

Resource Example: Powell, Gavin; Database Modeling Step by Step (1st Edition); Auerbach Publications, 18 Dec 2019; ISBN-13: 978-0367422172

Example: In the below example, the graph publisher has depicted the flow of death records through a medical death classification category called R00-R99 ‘Symptoms, Signs, and Abnormal Clinical and Laboratory Findings, Not Elsewhere Classified’. What the graph creator failed to do however, is take the data to a normal form, or to ‘denature’ it. Denaturation (biochemistry, not alcohol) is the process of removing invalid primary, secondary, or tertiary structure so that data may be parsed into its native state.2 This is also often called a process of ‘normalization’. However, since normalization relates to the elemental structure of a relational database as well, I use the term ‘denature’, in order to distinguish that this step constitutes more than simple assembly of a 3rd Normal Form (3NF) database table structure.3

A ‘graph’ is a visual depiction of raw data. A ‘chart’ communicates a concept for comprehension, which transcends or belies the mere ‘data’ behind it.

The example Exhibit 1 graph below is compromised by two dynamic secondary structures: First, the dynamic lag in the rate of its arrival (the dip in each sub-line at the right end), and second the dynamic rate of clearing of the data to other underlying cause of death codes (the relative gaps between the sub-lines). These two secondary structures must be removed from the data (denatured) in order to make it usable for model development or inference.

Denature – to remove the secondary, tertiary, agency-driven, confounding, or misleading concatenation structures from extracted data, no matter its purported ‘reliability’, in order to derive its base state – a state which is then more likely to inform.

As such, while the table below indeed portrays fact, it does not therefore also constitute information. It is disinformation technically, sans intent. It is equivalent to an accountant’s ledger entry and nothing more. The ‘accountant’ here (the CDC) is missing (most of) an alarming rise in this category of deaths, because they are deluding themselves through a conflation of the data and its secondary dynamic structures. An inability to see the forest for the ‘facts’. The fact that the data is reliable, has nothing to do with whether or not it is also therefore useful. It must be denatured before it can become informative.

Exhibit 1 – US Centers for Disease Control data which looks normal and informative – however, whose dynamic secondary structures obfuscate an underlying critical trend in deaths.

II. Information must be transmuted into intelligence.

Transmutating information into intelligence typically involves two steps:

a. Assembly of the denatured elemental data structures produced in Step I above, into a model outlining a chain of mechanism and feedback (a dynamic or ‘neural’ model) which represents the system in question (most all things involve systems), and

b. Filtering out imbalances and dis-economies of scale. That is to say – modeling the true value, magnitude, risk ,or cost of each element or node in a system, and not its fiat or nominal estimate of same.

The holding of a reasonably accurate model, which can describe contribution points, contributors, current or future activity, is called holding ‘intelligence’. Counter-intelligence is the process of obfuscating these elements so that the enemy or competitor is not able to produce an accurate model. This failure to develop dynamic or neural systems, along with modeling by means of nominal (not normalized) node costs (values), almost always lead to the conclusion that the current approach or understanding is the correct answer. Sound familiar? For readers of The Ethical Skeptic, this should.

The techniques which serve to break these habits are typically taught in systems and value chain engineering curricula, but not in most of academic science.

Resource Example: West, Page; Strategic Management: Value Creation, Sustainability, and Performance (6th Edition); Riderwood Publishing, 19 Nov 2019; ISBN-13: 978-1733174404

Example: At one fashion designer for whom I did strategy, the question was raised as to whether or not a shift in sourcing out of South Korea was in order. South Korea had been where the main competitor was conducting its sourcing – a sourcing strength which proved to be a disadvantage to my client in terms of both factory clout and landed cost. I proposed that we take an opposite approach and develop sourcing out of Jordan, Mexico, and Pakistan instead. The finance team retorted that per-unit first costs out of those nations were prohibitively high, product was slow to arrive, and costly to ship.

My team responded that those figures cited by accounting constituted ‘nominal loaded figures’ – in other words, they did not reflect economies of scale, maturation, and clout. They were simply output data from an ERP report, and not the result of a dynamic and normalized node structure. I contended that, once those resources were fully loaded and managed, not only would their per-unit costs then fall in line, but the speed by which they could swiftly outpace South Korean factories, would enable a speed-to-margin strategy win which would surpass the client’s major competitor in terms of fashion-based push sell-through.

The CEO comprehended what I was saying and elected to implement our strategy. Three years later, I was invited to speak before executives at this major competitor (a prominent national brand) – and without divulging proprietary information, present how this client had beaten them over the last three years through smart strategic changes. Although my team contributed a minor role at the very beginning of its process, this business case constituted one of the most monumental ‘David and Goliath’ upsets in US business history.

III. Intelligence is the first sound basis from which to plan or take action.

Intelligence is a process of eliminating the irrelevant, as much as it is a process of identifying the truth. Often, it is not a lack of truth which prevents the making of a sound decision, but rather a lack of clarity – a distraction with the chronically ill-defined, trivial, and menial. Humanity labors as if an unfortunate animal, trapped in a tar pit of irrelevancy, regarding that its desperate bellows will somehow serve to bring it to the salvation of truth.

Assembly and testing of conjecture scenarios through a systemic model, the measure of soundness, logical calculus, deduction, critical path, and inferential strength I have only found (to sufficiency – and not even complete given that) on my website. I am sure all of this is comprised through a number of separate publications – however, there exist few individuals if any, who can match my experiential depth in data analysis, business operations, military intelligence, philosophy, science, decades of applied systems and value chain engineering projects, knowledge of the nature of deception, along with hundreds of successful business and national strategies to boot.

This leveraging of intelligence into sound planning, is roughly outlined in the chart below. It involves the process of extracting thinking from the mire of irrelevance and into the ‘shining pathway of success’. The critical path.

There are many people who write books about this topic, but very few who have actually done it. You will note that these Type II or Semantic Experts employ intimidating-in-appearance heuristic and second-hand accounts, as a substitute for actual personal experience and competence. So I consider this, fortunately or unfortunately, to constitute my horizon of expertise.

Resource and Four Application Examples:

The Ethical Skeptic, “The Strategic Mindset”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 27 Jan 2022; Web, https://theethicalskeptic.com/?p=61452

The Ethical Skeptic, “Inflection Point Theory and the Dynamic of The Cheat”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 20 Oct 2019; Web, https://wp.me/p17q0e-atd

The Ethical Skeptic, “The Map of Inference”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 4 Mar 2019; Web, https://wp.me/p17q0e-9r6

Intelligence after all, constitutes far more than the mere holding of facts and data. Those who boast of such, only serve to discredit themselves in the eyes of an ethical skeptic. Just smile and quietly move on when you encounter these types. Refuse to join them as they wallow, blissful and intoxicated inside the warm yellowing pool of fact-fueled ignorance.

The Ethical Skeptic, “Mere Facts & Data Do Not Constitute Knowledge”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 9 Apr 2022; Web, https://theethicalskeptic.com/?p=64843

Disinformation vs Misinformation – Neither Can Be Defined by ‘Intent’ (Part I of II)

The social definitions of misinformation and disinformation suffer Wittgenstein Contextual Error. They are disinformation themselves. One should notice that, despite an expansion of such terminology and knowledge, nonetheless people grow more ignorant and gullible each decade. This is exactly how disinformation works.

The 10% lie is much more effective than the 100% one. While misinformation deals in lies, disinformation deals in facts. ‘Fact-checking’ therefore, is a favorite pretense of the disinformant.

This is Part I of a series of two articles. Part II – How to Detect Propaganda – The Art of the Professional Lie can be read here.

Information is qualified by its logical calculus – and not by one’s fantasy regarding their ability to ‘read’ their opponent.

There exist six states of wrong. Each state is defined below, along with its Wittgenstein identifier in parenthesis. But before we outline these definition delineations to a Wittgenstein level however, let’s briefly examine a principle I learned in my intelligence days.

Once detected, a 10% lie (disinformation) is much more informative than a 100% lie (misinformation) – as the latter is merely incorrect. The former often identifies the focus of the propaganda and the latter most often does not. This ‘added focus’ is not intent per se, but rather additional intelligence embedded inside the information itself. It is a status of the information therefore, and not of the person carrying it.

This is critical to comprehend. This ‘added intelligence’ (or agency) is sometimes misinterpreted as ‘intent’ (apparent intent) – hence the obvious confusion. Intent is the status of a person, not of the information. Being ‘partly correct’ (more accurately, the four forms of Disinformation below) is a status of information, not person.

All information stems from and carries intent. That is why it became information and was delivered to you in the first place. Therefore declaring that one knows in advance, what intent is bad (disinformation) and what intent is innocent (misinformation), constitutes a useless God proclamation. The ethical skeptic does not operate under such a luxury of inerrancy, as the ethical skeptic is not a god or anything near that. He or she cannot pretend to know intent a priori. He or she can only judge the soundness, completeness, and logical rigor of the syllogism and inference being passed.

The Conditions of Flawed Information

Misinformation

Misinformation deals in lies, purposed to a state of one ‘being ill-informed’ – as it gives wrong information.

When intentional, its intent is to injure or make the recipient appear as if irrational or error prone to others. Often it is fabricated so as to be detected at some point in the future when it will serve to discredit and harm the most. It is a form of poison information.

Misinformation (Latin ‘Mis’ – bad/wrong) – a state of holding information which is bad/wrong (this can be the result of both intent or non-intent and its contrived stickiness can be both permanent or temporary).1

   •  Wrong (sinnlos) – Factually incorrect (principally or ~100% wrong)
   •  Incoherent/Not even wrong (bedeutungslos) – Babble. Not a syllogism or statement of inference in reality

To the intelligence professional, there is negative utility in regarding ‘mistaken’ information as otherwise being completely sincere. Moreover, ‘being mistaken’ most often stems from Nelsonian intent or fear to begin with. Therefore, everyone bears an intent in transmuting the information they pass to one degree or another.

Immediately prior to the battle between Carthage’s Hannibal and Rome’s Scipio in October, 202 BCE at Zama, Hannibal dispatched men to locate Scipio and assess his legion’s military strength. The Romans captured several of these scouts. However, rather than execute them as spies, Scipio ordered them to be given a tour of the ranks and then be set free. Why did he reveal so much information? Scipio knew that the scouts would save face by not mentioning their capture, yet as well offer an incredibly detailed account of what they saw. However, the Roman army they ‘saw’ was not yet at full strength – and Scipio had hidden his most important battle asset from the scouts, his cavalry. The scouts simply reported that Scipio had no cavalry. This misinformation become the basis of Hannibal’s undoing at Zama.

The job of the intelligence professional is to detect agency, not simply human nature.

Disinformation

Disinformation deals in ‘facts’, purposed to a state of one ‘being un-informed’ – as it gives no actual salient or critical information at all – it can be most easily distinguished by what it ignores or is silent about.

Disinformation is chewing gum, which the consumer thinks is actual food. The disinformant of course does not want to be caught lying, and misinformation can be detected as a lie. Fact-checking therefore, is a favorite pretense of the disinformant – along with misdirection, appeal to ignorance or authority (debunking), or tag-line memorization. Its intent is to make the recipient appear artificially rational or correct before others, as long as they accede to it – so that the notion being passed, can spread more easily. It is fabricated so as to be harder to detect than mere lying. It is fabricated so as to displace the existence of usable information and create an intellectual vacuum (the absence or ‘without’).

Disinformation (Latin ‘Dis’ – without) – a state of being without information – a vacuum created by a spun ‘fact’ – which is superficially, irrelevantly, or partly correct – and distracts the recipient into not being aware that they hold no actual salient information at all (this is almost always intentional and almost always planned to be permanent in terms of its stickiness).2

   •  Contrived Correctness (sinnlos) – Factually correct, logically flawed or unsound inference
   •  Contrived Ignorance (sinnlos) – Mostly correct, Nelsonian knowledge or inference (10% wrong)
   •  Correct but Moot (unsinnig) – Inferentially moot, ignoratio elenchi, red herring, ingens vanitatum
   • 
Apothegm/Tag-Line (unsinnig) – A social idiom, appeal to apothegm, or catch phrase

Propaganda and Malinformation

Malinformation, or malicious information, is information which is purposely released and which serves by its content (not per se intent), to harm a targeted individual or organization. It can come in the form of truth, disinformation, or misinformation. Doxxing someone’s children for instance, exposing a crime for which they were convicted as a teenager, or releasing nude photos of someone, all can be 100% true information. As well, it can be fabricated or partially correct. Therefore, malinformation is for the most part a species of propaganda, because propaganda employs both disinformation (true to partly true) and misinformation (lie), as does malinformation.

With that in mind, let us therefore define propaganda (as intent), below.

Propaganda (The Art of the Professional Lie)

The skilled exploitation of caustic or surreptitious misinformation, anonymously sourced malinformation, along with smoothed (both simple and authoritative) disinformation, passed selectively from fiat authority to those targeted and under its influence – which is used to harm opposition voices, and to make allied voices appear more credible.

Propaganda exploits the human proclivity towards fear-uncertainty-doubt (FUD), identifying the bad guy in advance (judging intent), and finally the desire for easy and simple answers.

For a breakout of the channels and compartments of propaganda, see Part II – How to Detect Propaganda – The Art of the Professional Lie.

Please note as well that there exist both mis/disinformation and counter-mis/disinformation. One should not allow the complexity of ‘proposition versus counter-proposition’ to confuse the principle outlined above. A fact-checker for instance will often counter a claim made in public, and cite that it is ‘wrong’, when in fact only a minor, headlining, or trivial aspect of the material is wrong. Such would be a case of counter-propositional disinformation.

The counter-intelligence professional is trained to be a skilled observer of a special blend of misinformation and disinformation, called propaganda. Once they attempt to adjudicate these by intent alone, everything becomes a distinction without a difference. Everyone becomes a suspect.

As one can see, neither definition can hinge solely upon intent, as both can bear either its presence or absence. Gaslighting (an intent) for instance, can utilize both misinformation and disinformation at the same time. All six of these conditions of information, can stem from personal maliciousness, sincerity, or intent to deceive – which are conditions of the person, not conditions of information. This logical distinction is critical. Misinformation or Disinformation is a status of the information, and not of the myriad intents of potential people (or no people at all) who carry, promote, or alter it.

All of these conditions of information, are passed simultaneously and serially among layers of organization, intelligence and syndicate compartment, and series of individuals or authorities – all of whom are both sincere and insincere in their intent at the same time. All of whom also add their own spin.

The Problem of Intent:

Verschlimmbesserung – (German) to make something worse while trying to make it better. The fallacy of judging disasters by the measure that, those who bore the ‘good intentions’ should bear no fault, or place themselves as disconnected from the disaster.

A Lopsided Intent-Based Delineation is Disinformation Itself

Exhibit 1 – Intent vs Logic Based Delineationmost people do not perceive that they are being played from both ends of the disinformation and misinformation spectrum, not just one of them. Through declaring one end bad through intent and the other ‘good’, one has lost both the battle and the war.

This black arrow on the lower left hand side of Exhibit 1, is what one might call the ‘make it simple for me’ propaganda channel. The absolute hallmark of disinformation is, that it is most always crafted to be simple – which along with other treatments (see The Tree of Knowledge Obfuscation) are collectively termed as ‘smoothed’ in this chart.

Therefore, as one may observe in the above chart, intent is not a workable basis of delineation between misinformation and disinformation. Intent is an extra layer of discernment and complicatedness (Ockham’s Razor) one brings to the party before knowing anything at all. The problems of establishing an intent-based lopsided Wittgenstein footprint delineation include:

  1. Since all Misinformation is only innocent in context, propaganda (the Intelligence definition) can never exist. Only conspiracy theory can exist.
  2. A mutual exclusivity becomes a fortiori between Authority-Governance-Media (who only make mistakes, but bear only objective to good intent) and Malinformation. An exclusivity which forces all Disinformation (and therefore Conspiracy Theory) to reside outside the footprint of Authority-Governance-Media.
  3. Authority-Governance-Media can disinform all they please, as there is no term which exists to describe malicious activity on their part – just as long as they never say anything provably ‘100% wrong’ (Wittgenstein Context Error).
  4. This serves to establish the false dilemma, that if one questions The Narrative in the slightest, one is therefore a Conspiracy Theorist.
  5. Finally, this bifurcation falsely reassures Narrative Ninnies, that they are indeed correct.

Through an ‘intent’ bifurcation, one essentially establishes the standard,
that as long as one employs the terms ‘fact’ and ‘conspiracy theory’ –
they therefore have earned a license to lie.

Moreover, as a result

  • A lie would change constantly back and forth from misinformation to disinformation and back as it was passed through a chain of command or syndicate, crony network – until becoming inevitably altered through a series of individuals, various levels of awareness and intent, and into the market of information.
  • Information can be stripped of intent when it enters the marketplace of ideas to begin with. What does it become then? No longer disinformation? Baloney. This is exactly what fact-checkers thrive upon – assumed lack of agency.
  • Discerning of ‘intent’ adds another unnecessary layer of uncertainty and complicatedness into the already shaky discourse around a science. This is an unwise activity from a philosophical standpoint, and should be avoided whenever possible.
  • Through this type of value chain, if the definition were based upon solely intent, all disinformation would eventually devolve into misinformation in the market/field as it encountered more gullibility (less intent to deceive). Propaganda could never therefore exist at a level of accountability. It would perpetually wear the costume of innocent ‘misinformation’.
  • A person can claim exculpatory status from maliciousness and propaganda simply by claiming ‘I was mistaken’ – when no such thing was true (and because there is no such status as ‘distaken’) and where indeed they purposely surrendered their diligence to an authority they knew to be disinformative.
  • Finally, Trojan Disinformation (misinformation which is purposely loaded with internal clues as to its falsehood) can be passed freely as propaganda and never be described. Since it is ‘misinformation’, it is also therefore not disinformation nor propaganda. A wonderful sleight-of-hand by means of semantics.

Trojan Disinformation and Controlled Opposition

A set of data or observation which is passed to an opposition group anonymously, which appears at face value to support their contentions – however, which also contains an often subtle but irrefutable feature which will serve to falsify the set of data or observation at a later time, well after it has already gone viral inside the opposing camp. This is a Trojan Horse style of disinformation, which is sold as misinformation (innocent mistake); disinformation designed to discredit opposing voices through their credulity and lack of attention to detail.

Trojan Disinformation is often released by controlled opposition. Vladimir Lenin said “The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.” With Trojan Disinformation you both lead, mislead, and spotlight the opposition all at once.

Such tactics are detected by their channel, schema, and structure – and not by means of the intent of various individuals involved. The ethical skeptic knows that it is not actually their job (although it is human nature to do so) to psychically discern the intent of the person they are deliberating with across the table. We are not playing poker when deliberating science, philosophy, and truth. We are not trying to win a kitty or ego-stoking argument. This is how tribes and polarization foment, as everyone begins to distrust everyone on the opposing side, from expertly reading their ‘intent’ – rather than focusing upon the logical calculus at hand.

Of course we have seen the results of that working basis of definition. It is therefore high time for a new and Wittgenstein accurate one.

The Ethical Skeptic, “Disinformation vs Misinformation – Neither Has Anything To Do with ‘Intent’”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 10 Mar 2022; Web, https://theethicalskeptic.com/?p=63633