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Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Emergence, reverence, and irrelevance

Via Jerry Michalski, here's a great text by Russell Ackoff, a pioneer of Operations Research, that sketches what I feel is the usual arc trajectory of successful fields of knowledge.

The life of OR has been a short one. It was born here late in the 1930's. By the mid 60's it had gained widespread acceptance in academic, scientific, and managerial circles. In my opinion this gain was accompanied by a loss of its pioneering spirit, its sense of mission and its innovativeness. Survival, stability and respectability took precedence over development, and its decline began.

I hold academic OR and the relevant professional societies primarily responsible for this decline-and since I had a hand in initiating both, I share this responsibility. By the mid 1960's most OR courses in American universities were given by academics who had never practised it. They and their students were text-book products engaging in impure research couched in the language, but not the reality, of the real world. The meetings and journals of the relevant professional societies, like classrooms, were filled with abstractions from an imagined reality. As a result OR came to be identified with the use of mathematical models and algorithms rather than the ability to formulate management problems, solve them, and implement and maintain their solutions in turbulent environments.

Eventually the tails begins wagging the dog. "When all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail".

[...] In the first two decades of OR, its nature was dictated by the nature of the problematic situations it
faced. Now the nature of the situations it faces is dictated by the techniques it has at its command.

There's an interesting passage on interdisciplinarity as a sign of the aliveness of a field:

Subjects, disciplines, and professions are categories that are useful in filing scientific knowledge and in dividing the labour involved in its pursuit, but they are nothing more than this. Nature and the world are not organized as science and universities are. There are no physical, chemical, biological, psychological, sociological or even Operational Research problems. These are names of different points-of-view, different aspects of the same reality, not different kinds of reality. Any problematic situation can be looked at from the point-of-view of any discipline, but not necessarily with equal fruitfulness.

[...] The fact that the world is in such a mess as it is is largely due to our decomposing messes into unidisciplinary problems that are treated independently of each other.

Don't miss the ironic postscript, too.

A related earlier post of mine is
"Information systems research: towards irrelevance?"

What do you think? []  links to this post    8:56:00 PM  
Seb Fiedler in town

Sebastian Fiedler has been spending a few days over here in Moncton (and on Prince Edward Island). We've had a great time bouncing all kinds of ideas around. If you're around Moncton, you might be interested in knowing that Seb will be giving a talk today:

Personal Webpublishing networks: A conversational learning environment for self-organized learners
Speaker: Sebastian Fiedler, University of Augsburg (Germany)
Date: Tuesday, October 28, 2003 Time: 10:45 p.m. noon (Atlantic Standard Time)
Location: Jacqueline-Bouchard Building (Room 163), Université de Moncton, Moncton, New Brunswick

For those who will not be in the Moncton area and are interested to attend Sebastian Fiedler's presentation, please note that this session will be recorded and made available through the Internet. If this option is of interest to you, contact Shannon Watts ( and specify that you are interested in viewing the webcast version and we will send you the url and related instructions as soon as the recorded presentation becomes available.

In case you've been wondering, Seb's domain name is broken at the moment but he's trying hard to get things straightened up.

This post also appears on open channel edblogging

What do you think? []  links to this post    7:06:51 AM  
Meeting on the cheap

Peter Rukavina:

note to bureaucrats: next time an eager group comes to you with a $300,000 funding request to host a conference, point them back at this post and ask them to explain themselves.

What do you think? []  links to this post    6:40:56 AM  
Usability and Instructional Technology Timelines

Timelines: Usability and Instructional Technology. Neat, though it stops in the year 1999. Comes with a listing of sources towards the end.

1993 Hypermedia encyclopedias outsell print encyclopedias. JN
U & I

[via Greg Elin]

What do you think? []  links to this post    5:45:48 AM  

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