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Information Without Information Studies

Part of the Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST,volume 34)


A method is suggested of conducting a meta-analysis of contributions to the literature on the nature of information—one that involves identification of authors’ ontological commitments. A framework is proposed for defining the range of ontological possibilities for things that have been called “information”; the ontological commitments of some of those whose work may be less familiar to the Library and Information Science (LIS) community are examined; and some residual confusion about the nature of the relationships among different conceptions of information is cleared up. It is tentatively concluded that any approach to conceptualizing information that downplays the contributions of LIS—i.e., information without information studies—is needlessly impoverished, not least on account of the range of ontological possibilities that it misses.


  • Mutual Information
  • Ontological Commitment
  • Information Study
  • Conditional Entropy
  • Shannon Information

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Fig. 7.1
Fig. 7.2


  1. 1.

    See, e.g., Loux (2002) for an authoritative introduction to this field.

  2. 2.

    Figure 7.1 is adapted from Figure 1.2, The four-category ontology, in Lowe (2006: 18).

  3. 3.

    See, e.g., Cover and Thomas (1991) for an authoritative presentation of the mathematical material in this section.

  4. 4.

    It should be noted that the use here of “bit” as a unit of measurement is distinct from its other regular use as the name for a type of data.

  5. 5.

    Rapoport was by no means the first to articulate the value of Shannon’s theory in this way. Among other summarizations, Warren Weaver’s (1949) introduction to a volume in which Shannon’s 1948 paper was reprinted has been especially influential.

  6. 6.

    See the discussion of mutual information in Sect. 7.4.4 above.

  7. 7.

    See the discussion of surprisal in Sect. 7.4.1 above.

  8. 8.

    See, e.g., Pitzer (1995) for an authoritative presentation of the principles of thermodynamics.

  9. 9.

    The idea that information is a quantity equivalent to the reciprocal of entropy is due to Norbert Wiener (1948), whom Stonier does not cite.

  10. 10.

    See, e.g., French and Krause (2006).

  11. 11.

    Marcia Bates (2005, 2006), for example, grapples with this issue; see Furner (2010: 178–181) for a discussion. I am grateful to Tom Dousa for the insight that conceptions like Stonier’s are somewhat comparable to the “forms” of Aristotelian and Scholastic philosophy, which likewise give structure to otherwise unformed matter; see Capurro (1978) for a review of such ideas.

  12. 12.

    See, e.g., Qvortrup (1993).

  13. 13.

    The similarity of this argument to Suzanne Briet’s (1951) explanation of the distinction that should be made between the documentary status of an antelope in the wild and that of an antelope in a zoo (an explanation that is well-known in LIS thanks to the glosses provided by Michael Buckland and others; see, e.g., Buckland 1991) is striking, especially given Briet’s characterization of documents as signs (indices). However, it should be noted that Sartre’s paintings take on a sign-role only when they are being regarded; whereas, once it enters the zoo’s collection, Briet’s antelope remains a document even when nobody is looking at it.

  14. 14.

    Lagache (1997: 284) also quotes Merleau-Ponty, from his Phenomenology of perception (1945): “The mere presence of a living being transforms the physical world, makes appear here foods, there hiding places, and imparts to the stimuli a meaning they had not.”

  15. 15.

    Because Lagache does not use the standard semiotic terminology (due to Peirce; see, e.g., Atkin 2010) of icon, index, and symbol, it is not immediately clear how the first three of her four kinds of signs should be mapped to a Peircean framework. For example, is the handprint an icon (referring to its object through similarity), or an index (referring to its object through a physical connection)?

  16. 16.

    Its first volume was published in 2010.

  17. 17.

    From MDPI’s website at, we learn that, at the time of its founding in 1996 as a non-profit institute for “the promotion and preservation of the diversity of chemical compounds” and as the publisher of the electronic journal Molecules, MDPI originally stood for “Molecular Diversity Preservation International”; that it now stands for “Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute”; and that the organization now publishes more than 70 open-access journals in a variety of (mainly) scientific fields, many of which are financed by collecting “article processing charges” from journal articles’ authors.

  18. 18.


  19. 19.


  20. 20.


  21. 21.

    Information use: Suzie Allard and Kizer Walker; scientometrics: Loet Leydesdorff and Lokman Meho; information ethics: Rafael Capurro, Luciano Floridi, and Herman Tavani; computer science: Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic, Lorenz Hilty, and Paul Vitányi; physics: Giorgio Kaniadakis, Andrei Khrennikov, and Robert Logan; see

  22. 22.

    FIS 2010: Towards a New Science of Information (Beijing, China, August 20–23, 2010), co-chaired by Hua-Can He, Pedro Marijuán, and Wolfgang Hofkirchner, with Burgin, Floridi, and Logan among the members of its international advisory board, was the Fourth International Conference on the Foundations of Information Science; see

  23. 23.


  24. 24.

    Hofkirchner is current president of the UTI Research Group; Fuchs is a member of its executive board. UTI Research Group focuses on “the role of information, communication, media, technology, and culture in society,” contributing to “information science, communication and media studies, and science and technology studies”; see

  25. 25.


  26. 26.

    Information studies: Ron Day, Michel Menou, Alice Robbin, and Dan Schiller; Information editorial board: Burgin, Capurro, Dodig-Crnkovic, Hilty, Leydesdorff, and Logan; UTI Research Group: José María Díaz Nafría, Peter Fleissner, Francisco Salto, and Rainer Zimmermann, as well as Hofkirchner, and Burgin again; FIS 2010 advisory board: Søren Brier, John Collier, Charles Ess, Pedro Marijuán, Michel Petitjean, and Tom Ziemke, as well as Díaz Nafría, Fleissner, Hofkirchner, Logan, Zimmermann, and Burgin once again; see

  27. 27.

    As previously indicated, Logan is a member of the editorial boards of both journals, and was on the advisory board for FIS 2010. Logan is also on the board of directors of the Science of Information Institute (SoII; see Sect. 7.6.2 below).

  28. 28.

    See, e.g., Frické (2009).

  29. 29.

    See Sect. 7.6 above. Díaz Nafría is also a member of the editorial board of TripleC, and served on the advisory board for FIS 2010.

  30. 30.

    The Science of Information Institute, founded in 2006, is “devoted to the development and recognition of information as a unique science that crosses traditional scholarly disciplines”; see Hofkirchner, Logan, and Díaz Nafría are among the members of its board of directors; Burgin, Collier, Dodig-Crnkovic, Marijuán, Salto, and Zimmermann, as well as Brier, Floridi, Elizabeth Buchanan (Center for Applied Ethics, Wisconsin-Stout), and Leah Lievrouw (Information Studies, UCLA), are among the members of its science advisory committee.

  31. 31.

    The International Society for Information Studies was founded in 2011 with headquarters in Vienna, Austria, and has the aim of advancing “global and collaborative studies in the sciences of information, information technology and information society as a field in its own right by boosting the elaboration of common conceptual frameworks, the implementation of which in practice contributes to mastering the challenges of the information age”; see

  32. 32.

    BITrum is an “interdisciplinary research group … constituted to develop a conceptual and theoretical clarification of information, intending to gather all the relevant points of view and pursuing to preserve all the interests at stake (scientific, technical and social)”; see BITrum was founded by Díaz Nafría and Salto in 2008, and counts Brier, Buchanan, Burgin, Capurro, Dodig-Crnkovic, Fleissner, Floridi, Hofkirchner, Petitjean, and Zimmermann among the members of its scientific committee.

  33. 33.

    A continuously updated and collaboratively authored version—the Glossarium BITri—is available online at


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I would like to thank the editors of this volume, Tom Dousa and Fidelia Ibekwe-SanJuan, for their very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this chapter.

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Furner, J. (2014). Information Without Information Studies. In: Ibekwe-SanJuan, F., Dousa, T. (eds) Theories of Information, Communication and Knowledge. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, vol 34. Springer, Dordrecht.

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