What is Information Science?

Filed under: research

I was asked today what my PhD studies is about. It’s classified under a broad field of Information Science, which is a meta discipline. Described by Marcia Bates’ 1999 capstone paper entitled, “The Invisitble Substrate of Information Science.” In the paper she describes how disciplines fit together, how a discipline’s paradigm emphasises a particular emphasis. Information Science is above-the-water-line, meaninng it is a meta field rather than a below-the-water-line discipline such as natural sciences, which focuses more heavily on depth.

Traditional areas of academic research disciplines cover art (painting, sculpture, music, dance, theater), humanities (literature, languages, linguistics, philosophy, religion), social and behavioral sciences (history, archaeology, economics, poligical science, psychology, anthropology, geography), and natural sciences and math (biology, chemistry, biochemistry, geology, physics, astronomy, oceanography, mathematics, logic, computer science). These traditional disciplines lead into professional disciplines such as commercial art, architecture, law, criminal justics, clinical psychology, social welfare, medicine, pharmacy, agriculture, forestry, civil engineering, accounting, finance, etc.)

Three broad areas as examples of meta-fields: the information disciplines, education, and communication/ journalism. In her own words:

Educators work on the theory and practice of teaching and learning— how learning is best achieved, across all subject domains. Communication researchers study the transmission of messages and their impacts in various contexts, and communication practitioners, namely, journalists, learn to identify topics of interest, sleuth for news and shape and present a news story. Teaching, of course, is done in all subject matters, just as journalism, likewise, addresses all subject matters, each through its particular lens. The information disciplines all deal with the collection, organization, retrieval, and presentation of information in various contexts and on various subject matters. That social purpose, of collecting, organizing, and disseminating information shapes all the activities of the information disciplines; it is the lens through which all the subject content of the traditional disciplines is viewed, and the framework for the work in that area.

Figure from [Marcia J. Bates][2]

Information science encompasses many areas, such as data storage, database management systems, information behavior, archives, museums, publishing, information policy/law, bibliometrics, data mining, informatics, and so on.

In a quick one-liner summary, I’d define Information Science as the discipline that studies recorded human knowledge; including techniques to search for information and organize information.

As for my dissertation study, rather than studying server traffic logs, I analyzed user created content. I compared user behavior across multiple social media UI patterns to see how they might be affected, kind of a virtual people watching, comparing behavior at say a local coffee shop compared to an airport. Would you take a date to an airport to get to know them? If you can understand why the probability is not high, then you understand that design of a social space impacts your feelings during interpersonal moments. My dissertation research basically showed evidence of this; it proved that it’s acceptable to study online communities at a deeper level, people are separate from the website technology, yet as a system they influence each other.

Dissertation defense from Kat Chuang