Title: Science as Knowledge Construction 
Resource Type: document --> technical publication --> report 
Country: EU Projects 
Year: 2002 
Availability: Winder, N. (2002) Science as Knowledge Construction Discussion paper prepared for The AQUADAPT workshop, Montpellier, October 25th-27th 2002 
Author 1/Producer: Winder, N. 
Author / Producer Type: EC Project 
Report / download web link (=direct link): http://www.aquadapt.net/pdf/Winder_-_Science_as_knowledge_co ...  
Format (e.g. PDF): PDF 
EUGRIS Keyword(s): Contaminated land-->Soil and groundwater processes-->Soil and groundwater processes overview
Short description: Introduction: Observations are sensory experiences articulated with beliefs. When I observe a blade of grass growing from the crack between paving stones, I receive a bundle of sensory experience, which I recognise as a “blade of grass” and locate in the “crack” between “two” “paving -stones”. I believe that blades of grass, cracks and paving stones are ontologically real and use these beliefs to “make sense” of my experiences. A lot of sensory stimuli are filtered out by our belief systems and systematically ignored, but some resonate with them and are consciously acknowledged. Data are formally recorded observations. They can be discursive (a sentence, perhaps) or numeric (recorded on paper or on a computer). When you receive data, you must articulate it with a set of interpretive protocols (your own belief system) in order to reconstitute it as meaningful observations. By this broad definition the words I speak in my presentation or write in the paper that accompanies it are data (sensu lato). The principal difference between data and “raw” observation is that the former passes through at least two cognitive filters. The observer filters sensory experience once and codifies the resulting observation as data for storage or transmission. Every time the data is recalled from store it must be re-filtered before it “makes sense”. Some writers distinguish data from metadata. Metadata is data generated to summarise large datasets. If I take a set of weights and compute a mean, or read a book and write an abstract, I am creating metadata. Like any other sort of data, metadata must also pass through our cognitive filters before it makes sense. Information consists of observations that shape a person’s beliefs. The difference is that between “So What?” and “Aha!” When I tell you that scientists have found a blade of grass growing between two paving stones, you are quite likely to consider this a useless or trivial communication. So what? You know what it means (it’s a perfectly good observation) but it has no impact on your beliefs. However, if I were to tell you that scientists had found a blade of grass growing on Mars (and you believed me) it might change your beliefs. Aha! The distinction of observation from information is dynamic. The Aha! moment that re-shapes our belief systems is seldom repeated. Familiarity breeds contempt, so that yesterday’s Aha! becomes tomorrow’s So what? Knowledge is a shared set of beliefs that allow people to communicate, co-operate and co-ordinate their actions. Humans negotiate knowledge by communicating with each other. We seem to be programmed to try to understand the messages we receive from our senses, especially those that come from other people. This is particularly true when we are young. There are many “Aha!” moments in the first decade of life, rather fewer in the seventh. As our beliefs converge onto those of the community (communities) into which we are accepted, our knowledge becomes resistant to change. We begin to filter sensory experience and messages from others that do not resonate with beliefs. What I am saying is very straightforward but very important. Our beliefs serve as cognitive filters that determine what we can and cannot observe. Knowledge is a socially constructed, communal belief system. Within a given knowledge community, some observations are more likely to be made than others. Personal belief systems can change, but their amenability to change decreases as people mature 
Link to Project(s): AQUADAPT Strategic tools to support adaptive, integrated water resource management under changing utilisation conditions at catchment level: A co-evolutionary approach
Submitted By: Dr Stefan Gödeke WhoDoesWhat?      Last update: 14/02/2006

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