IVOR CATT, 121 Westfields,
St. Albans AL3 4JR, England.
in The Information Scientist 12 (4) December 1978, pp. 137-144.
argued that the self-protecting nature of the knowledge establishment leads
to the suppression of new ideas. Proposals are put forward for the
establishment of 'Communication nets' which having no central points are
incapable of suppression.
the principle of free communication of ideas is a basic tenet of the
scientific community, there are numerous examples of their suppression.
Professor Herbert Dingle, who wrote a book on relativity in the 1920s as
well as a section on relativity for ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, and was the
man chosen by the BBC to give the eulogy on Einstein when he died,
developed doubts about the special theory of relativity around 1955. To his
astonishment, he found that the scientific journals and institutions
suddenly closed their pages and doors when he wanted to write or say
something unorthodox; that is, heretical. A scientist might saym, 'something that was incorrect'. He describes his
experience in his book, SCIENCE AT THE CROSSROADS (1).
Velikovsky painstakingly developed the heretical
theory that Venus as a planet is only some 3,500 years old, that it moved
for centuries on a very eccentric orbit, and about 1500 BC made its two
closest approaches to the Earth. During the eighth and seventh centuries
BC, the comet Venus repeatedly approached Mars, and Mars in turn menaced
our planet. Only after all these encounters did Venus finally lose its last cometary
characteristics and settle down to its present planetary behaviour. Velikovsky believes that the effects of these
encounters on the Earth, especially the earlier ones, where truly
catastrophic. He wrote a book about his theories, called WORLDS IN
reading Velikovsky's book, the Professor of
Astronomy at Harvard warned Macmillan not to publish anything by Velikovsky, saying that if they did, Macmillan would be
boycotted by the academic community. Macmillan bowed to the pressure, and
fired the editor who had accepted Velikovsky's
manuscript, because he had accepted heretical material (3,4).
computer journals and conferences in Britain and the USA consistently
evaded 'The Glitch', the way in which computers spontaneously go mad for no
apparent reason. The lengthy private correspondence with the editor of
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN which culminated in his being forced to give 'The
Glitch' a passing mention, in April 1973, is very revealing. It took ten
years of dedicated hard slog by a group of scientists in the University of
Washington, St. Louis, to get it into the professional journal, the IEEE
Transactions on Computers, in June 1975.
other instances could be cited of the suppression of new or unusual, that is 'heretical', ideas by scientific
institutions. The system of refereeing technical articles before
publication (and I myself have acted as a referee) is a system of
censorship, the censor having no training in how to differentiate between
'wrong' and 'heretical'.
it is easy to look at the suppression of free communication in science from
the Basil Bernstein point of view (6), that 'knowledge is property with its
own market and trading value', to be protected by the practitioners of that
particular brand of knowledge - it may be sociology, mathematics,
psychology, or some sub-set of these. We might regard the suppression of
new ideas and the obstruction of outsiders when they try to trespass into a
branch of inowledge as pernicious and retrograde.
As one example of many suppressions, digital
electronics, otherwise called computer hardware design, can be taught in
virtually no college in the world today. It is suppressed by the older
knowledge groups of computer science, which means programming, and by
electronics, which means telecommunications. Dr Charles Seitz was chased
out of the University of Utah when he opened up a laboratory with digital
electronic hardware within the Computer Science Department. He then called
himself a 'defrocked conmputer scientist'. (After
a long gap, he is now lecturing at CALTECH.)
were certain that the suppression of free communication was wrong, it would
merely be necessary to expose the fact that editors of scientific
publications work to suppress scientific communication, rather than to
sustain it; that university faculties work to block new disciplines, rather
than help them to develop, and we would organize methods to prevent
editors, professors and conference organizers from suppressing new
developments in the future.
across this vista, like a blaze of light, comes the dictum of Dr A. W.
Holt, 'Without barriers to communication there can be no communication'.
This is one of the great profound truths which often appear facile at first
illustration of Holt's thesis, when I publish something in a scientific
journal, a large part of what I am publishing has already been said before
the first word of the piece. The fact that I am publishing in that
scientific journal means that I accept virtually the whole of what
Galbraith calls the 'conventional wisdom' which is accepted by subscribers
to that journal and its editors. This rigidly limits the scope of my
communication. I want to publish in that journal because I accept the frame
of reference established by that journal and the group of scientists who
support it. If something were published in that journal by someone who did
not accept virtually all the precepts enshrined in previous issues of the
journal, it would carry little meaning, or communication, because having
broken with the traditional agreed premises of the journal, no reader would
any more know what was still agreed; no one would even be sure what the
words in the revolutionary article meant. After all, the meaning of a word
is a creature of the frame of reference within which it has traditionally
been used. (M. Polanyi in PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE
says that every time a word is used, it alters or
reinforces its meaning as a result of its being used in a different context
(7).) As further illustration of the Holt dictum, we can take something
that the poet Stephen Spender once said. He argued for writing in an
already accepted style. He said that if one created a new style, one's own
style, one ran the risk of creating an 'historical object', and not
communicating. Similarly, one could say that if one wrote a revolutionary
article in a journal, one would create an historical object; what one said
would be unintelligible to the reader. The only meaningful communication is
one which only marginally alters the frame of reference.
language of T. S. Kuhn (8) it is permissible to write and speak within the
limitations of a shared paradigm, and even to marginally modify the shared
paradigm. This is an acceptable, meaningful exercise in what he calls
'normal science'. What is not permissible is to write or say something
which contradicts the shared paradigm, and expect it to be tolerated by the
accepted journals, conferences and faculties. In so far as such
institutions allowed the ingress of revolutionary ideas, they would be
inhibiting the proper flow of very useful communication of the normal kind,
of normal science, because the shared paradigm, a necessary frame of
reference in normal scientific communication, would be undermined.
Bernstein writes, apparently critically, that a body of knowledge is
property, with its own market value and trading arrangements, to be
protected by the social group which administers that body of knowledge.
However, one can look at such defensiveness in a favourable way. If no one
were to defend the integrity of a body of knowledge against assault from
laymen outside, the clarity and coherence of that body of knowledge, and in
particular the solidity and validity of the shared paradigm which is its
foundation, would be undermined.
body of knowledge, which embraces both information and understanding, needs
its own body of dedicated practitioners, whoi
exercise their knowledge and keep it alive. Also, they oput
up barriers around it to defend it against confusion. Without these
barriers toi mnore or
less random communication, giving precedence to communication between the
select few within the barriers, within their journals and conferences (and
churches), the body of knowledge that they are protecting would lapse into
confusion. That is why 'without barriers to communication there can be no
time to time, new knowledge tries to break through the befensive
barriers into the main body of knowledge, and an important role of the
priests within is to analyse these new ideas and decide whether to accept
or reject them. All the while they must defend what they already have. It
is therefore important that a limit be placed on the amount of new
knowledge attempting to break through to the inner sanctum. If too much
were allowed in for analysis at any one time the result would be confusion
and damage to the valuable body of knowledge already entrenched within.
the new knowledge which attempts to break in beyond the barriers and
articulate on to the already established knowledge plays an important role.
The existence of such conflicts attracts people of high calibre towards the
centre of the knowledge and towards its fringes. Even the rejection of a
new piece of knowledge is a useful exercise, because in the process the
main body of knowledge is exercised, and the practice of manipulating it
will be kept alive among the priests in the inner sanctum.
body of knowledge increases in size and complexity, the problem creasted by each quantum of new knowledge which
attempts to break through into the inner sanctum is greater. For this
reason, the defences surrounding a large body of knowledge are rightly much
higher, more difficult to surmount, than those surrounding one that is
smaller, less complex and less mature. However, new knowledge still comes
in, and the body of knowledge continues to grow, albeit at a slower and
slower rate. Unfortunately, h9owever, when the body of knowledge is bogger and the rate of inflow of new knowledge is
smaller, more and more of the activity within the knowledge becomes
'celebration', more and more ceremonial rather than exercise in depth. As a
result, a different calibre of person is attracted to the large knowledge,
lacking the ability to understand and defend a body of knowledge with many
levels of meaning. They are 'maintenance men' rather than 'builders'. The
central body of knowledge ossifies, becomes brittle and disintegrates. This
is how civilizations collapse, ho9w religions and cities collapse, and how
a scientific community will collapse.
expect bodies of knowledge to grow rapidly at first, grow more slowly when
they are large, and then steady to a more or less fixed maximum. After some
time at this maximum they will disintegrate.
recent investigations indicate that our knowledge and understanding of
electromagnetic theory reached its zenith in about 1910, and we have since
lost most of what we knew about the subject. I cannot find anyone in the
world today who professes to be an expert on electromagnetic theory, or who
is researching into the subject.
art had reached a large size and complexity as a body of knowledge in 1944,
which appears to have been its practical limit. Since there has been no
advance in the last thirty years (9), it must be well on its way to
language of Professor Lehman's theory of growth dynamics (10) 'progressive'
work has come to a halt and all activity is 'anti-regressive' maintenance
work. Lehman says that at this point, further advance can only be made if
the foundations of the knowledge are re-examined and streamlined.
it is at this point that the Holt barriers to communication play an
unfortunate role. By the time fundamental change is needed, we have seen
that there are good reasons why the calibre of the 'guardians of the
faith', the high priests, will have sunk to an all-time low, becoming
worried, inadequate functionaries holding in reverence their predecessors
who engineered the era of fast growth and progress. As the need for
fundamental change increases, their blocking of communication of new ideas
will become more complete and the established institutions more closed and
technology will grind to a halt and even regress unless we fundamentally
alter its underlying structure. The jkey problem
is that as a body of knowledge matures, that is, ossifies and becomes decadent, channels of communication are shut off by the
vested, mature groups, in a manner vividly described by Dr Charles McCutchen (11).
for a New System of Communication.
what is needeed is a new system of communication
between peers which cannot be strangled in the normal way when the relevant
body of knowledge reaches maturity. The key to the design of an
irrepressible communication system, which we can call a 'Communication
Net', is that it should have no central control point, no single focus
whose capture leads to strangulation. [dec98 See footnote.] This is how established institutions are
easily emasculated. For instance, control of the staff appointments to a
college faculty makes it easy to destroy the elan
vital of that faculty. Control of the reviewing process of a professional
journal makes it easy to suppress further coinstructive
communication. Similarly the technical conference, with its small cabal
choosing the list of speakers, is easy prey to a decadent clique.
not saying that the forces of decadence know that threy
are strangling their social group's future - indeed the essence of their
decadence is their ignorance of what they are doing. Generally, they
believe they are maintaining standards.
design a system which retains the good intent of the established
institutions - search after truth, free communication, appraisal by peers -
but does not have their unsound structure, vulnerable to capture by a
career- and prestige-oriented clique. One might even go so far as to say
that more rugged structures are a prerequisite for the technological
revolution, and that the reason for the failure of high technology to
generate vast profit is the strangulation of its institutions.
principle, a communication net contains equal individuals, each of whom
keeps an up to date list of articles that he recommends and copies of which
he is willing to supply on request at twice the direct cost involved; 25p
would be the kind of sum that another member of the net would send in
advance when requesting one article. The reason for charging double is that
this gives anyone in the net a surplus of funding which he uses to finance
the voluntary sending of unrequested articles -
for instance an important new article, or articles to someone who is being
invited to join the net.
member includes, in his bibliography of a certain subject, only those
articles - by himself and others - which he thinks make a contribution to
the subject. Each subject will have its own net, and on request amember will supply his bibliographies to all nets of
which he is a member. This will break down interdisciplinary boundaries,
which is one of the main problems in high technology.
membership of a professional institution costs about £15 p.a., it will be
reasonable to expect such members to spend about £5 p.a. on communication
nets, that is about twenty communications per year; quite enough in
the nets are in operation, a prestige-oriented scientist will aim to belong
both to a professional institution and to a communication net.
distribution of one's article on a net, particularly if it appeared in
bibliographies supplied by a number of eminent experts, would soon become
more prestigious than publication in a professional journal. In job
applications it would be useful to show that one's articles were
recommended by top people in the field - this is a facility unavailable at
member of a net will include in his bibliography a
sdtatement of the hours during which he is
available on the telephone. It looks as though two hours per week would be
reasonable, and it might be necessary to restrain calls by ohnly allowing trunk calls on the net.
and the direct dial telephone appeared after the philosophical and
organizational structure of professional institutions ossified, and the
institutions make no concessions to such technological advances.
Communication nets should be able to adjust rapidly to new communication
developments and opportunities.
BBC programme it was estimated that on average a published article was read
1.3 times - that is, articles are read 30% more often than they are
published. I asked the editor of AFIPS, a leading computing journal, about
this, and he said he thought the figure was probably more like four.
Whoever is right, it is clear that even after suppression of important
articles, the dissemination of what is allowed through by the censors
(reviewers) is ineffective and expensive. It seems eminently economical by
comparison to Xerox (say) ten copies of an article and mail them to those
likely to read them.
myself am setting up at least three nets - one being on electromagnetic
theory, a subject totally suppressed by the journals. Another net that I
shall start will be a net giving advice on what nets exist. Net design can
be expected to improve rapidly during the first ten years or so after their
inception, and it is important that improvements in their structure are
widely communicated as they are received.
communication nets are successful, it may be possible to use their
structure as the basis for the design of organizations dedicated to other
activities than flow of information. These other activities may develop
spontaneously within communication nets, or alternatively they may be
consciously started at a later date after some experience has been gained
with communication nets.
[Dec98 Footnote. Obviously, today
we will compare the 'Communication net' with the internet of twenty years
later. The critical question is, does the internet
have a central control point? Possibly not. Also, compare the Holt thesis
with today's 'spamming' on the internet.]
Dingle, Science at the Crossroads, Martin Brian & O'Keefe,
Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision,
Gracia (Editor), The Velikovsky
Affair, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1966.
4. Velikovsky reconsidered, Pensees, May 1972.
R. Couranz and D. F. Wann,
Theoretical and experimental behaviour of synchronizers operating in the
metastable region, IEEE Trans. Computers,
C-24, June 1975, pp. 604-15.
Bernstein, Class, Codes and Control, Vol. 1, Routledge
and Kegan Paul, London, 1962. [dec98. Compare with Brian Martin
elsewhere on this website.]
Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, Routledge and Kegan Paul,
London, 1962, p. 208.
S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of
Chicago Press, 1962.
9. I. Catt, Computer Worship, Pitman, 1974, p. 125.
A. Belady and M. M. Lehman, Programming
System Dynamics, IBM Research Report RC 3546, 1971.
McCutchen, An Evolved conspiracy, New
Scientist, 29 April 1976, p. 225.
Reprinted in I. Catt, Electromagnetic Theory vol. 1, C.A.M. Publishing
1979. p. 117
The scientific reception system as a
I. Catt. Published in the Journal of Information Science
order to survive, a body of knowledge must attract funding. 'Funding' can
mean, quite crudely, supplies of cash. It can also mean the support of
acolytes, or 'researchers', willing to 'work' for nothing and therefore
subsidize the body of knowledge. Instead of money, such people accept as
payment pieces of paper called 'degrees', institution membership, etc. We
shall call this activity 'zero purchase'. To attract funding, the body of
knowledge must stabilize and create an easily recognizable destination for
funding. This destination may be a university faculty or a scientific
institution. Credibility is gained by such an institution if it owns known
leading knowledge brokers, or 'experts'. An individual achieves expert
status by accumulating status symbols, from Nobel przes
down to A level passes, and by becoming the editor of an obscure journal or
by publishing papers and obscure books. An important distinguishing feature
of virtually all of these status symbols is that they are not directly
profitable at point of purchase. Anticipated fringe benefits are all. For
example, the book with low sales and low royalty counts as a status symbol
for the author, but the profitable best seller does not.
indulging in unremunerative activity helpful to a
body of knowledge, a would-be knowledge broker gains 'credit points' for
'selflessness' and 'scientific honesty'. If he gains enough such crredit points, he may become one of the leading
members of the knowledge establishment and recoup his investment of unpaid
toil during the previous decades. However, most people who run in the
'academic selflessness' sweepstakes never recoup in cash terms, but have to
be satisfied with the periodical reception of further pieces of paper - M.
Sc., Fellow of the Institute, CBE, etc.
scientist has attained guru status within an organization and helps it to
attract funding, it is important for him and for the organization that his
guru status should be made secure. He can ensure this either (1) by
continuing to maintain mastery of the evolving body of knowledge, or more
simply (2) through his refereeing and editorial power, by stabilizing that
knowledge and preventing it from developing, or (3) by some combination of
the previous two techniques. In practice, he opts for stability but
garnished with gradual growth at a pace well within his (possibly by now
as by ownership of gurus, an organization uses its official journals to
establish itself as a proper destination for funding (and zero purchase).
However, in the same way as a salesman tries not to disturb or confuse the
customer when making a sale by throwing doubt on the merit of his product,
journals can only serve their purpose if they contain no hint that the
fount of knowledge may not reside within the organization. On the other
hand, totally bland discourses in its journals (and totally bland lectures
by its resident gurus) pose another threat to an organization's money
supply; the charge that they have gone to sleep, or are old, decadent and
rusty. Discussion and dispute must be seen to occur, and this needs to be
reasonably orchestrated so as to give both the indication of internal
division (or life) in the organization, but not at such a level as to
threaten fragmentation leading to the need for the money source (perhaps a
government committee or charitable foundation) to take sides by deciding
which fragment to finance in the future. Organizations which fail to 'fine
tune' this orchestration have disappeared, so those that survive have
source (and even more so a 'zero purchase' Ph. D. student) also has to
achieve status by pointing to the status of the organization or
organizations it supports. In engineering terms, any 'life', or 'dispute',
represents positive feedback, a destabilizing factor with dangerous
possibilities, contrasting with the stabilizing effect of the reiteration
of antique ideas.
many years ago, I designed a triple Darlington amplifier, and was surprised
to find that in addition to the heavy D.C. current, it could oscillate at
low amplitude and very high frequency, the frequency of the first, small,
drive transistor, with the following two high power, low speed, transistors acting passively as forward biased
conducting Vbe diodes. This is a good model for
the compromise invariably reached by the organizations milking a body of
knowledge in order to secore their continued
funding. The high frequency, superficial, harmless oscillation, or
argument, shows the signs of life needed to reassure the funding sources,
while paradoxically at the same time the large, steady, bland communication
lower down serves to reassure. This is why a body of knowledge will
tolerate, and even encourage, argument and violent disagreement about
trivial detail while at the same time blocking all questioning of
fundamentals. To change the metaphor, a body of knowledge is like a large
raft on which all kinds of violent games can and must be played, but no one
must attack the raft on which they stand, because then everyone would drown
in new ideas.
I Catt, The rise and fall of bodies of knowledge [see
To magnificent articles by Hiram Caton