Pursuing Informatics

There’s no doubt that finding meaning in the data your company has amassed is necessary to staying competitive. But, as you scan your available talent pool, you might be wondering, “Who?” Who will be able to make sense of it all?

Differences between Informatics and Computer Science

According to Charles P. Friedman in “What informatics is or isn’t”, “Sciences basic to informatics include, but are not limited to: information science, computer science, cognitive science, and organizational science (224).” He goes on to say that informatics is NOT “scientists or clinicians tinkering with computers (225).”

In “What is biomedical informatics,” Bernstam, Smith, and Johnson suggest “information technology-oriented definitions focus on technology and tools…These definitions usually emphasize computer-based technologies.” They reason that “clearly, computers are very important tools for biomedical informaticians. Many activities associated with biomedical informatics such as data mining or electronic medical records would not be meaningful without computers. However, by focusing on computers, technology-based definitions emphasize tools rather than the work itself. (105)”

If you want to find the “why” of a problem or even potential solutions, delve into informatics. Berstam, Smith, and Johnson define it as, “the science of information, where information is defined as data with meaning (106).”

Social Drivers for the use of Information Technology

At digital marketing conferences, you’ll hear speakers discuss the latest innovations in data gathering as key to having better “personalized” results. While the driving facade is always “we want to better meet customer needs,” there’s no doubt that banks, hospitals, search companies, and businesses in general are driven by economic gain.

An altruistic view of informatics could be applied to education. Educators use online testing and measurement companies to gather and plot data, so that our teachers can analyze and strategize to improve professional development reports, curriculum, and lesson plans. But, while the driver in any given district is to bring special needs students to the next benchmark or give AP students specific problem areas and resources needed to obtain higher test scores, third party testing companies could be using student information to develop a broader portfolio of data collection and problem-solving services for economic reasons. Data could be shared, in some cases, with partner vendors to develop services identified to address district needs. Additionally, the government could access data. In 2014, My Web Writers published “Do You Trust the Internet?” about how to protect children from data gathering.

Information is power.

According to an April 15, 2014 article entitled, Study Finds Big Data is the Driving Force Behind Growth in Public Cloud Services, “public cloud providers are using big data to drive their own operations, get new customers and expand product portfolios. According to the analysis, the turnover of the 50 leading public cloud providers increased by 47 percent to $6.2 billion in the fourth quarter compared with the same period last year.” The increase in the Cloud size indicates an increase in the public’s thirst for knowledge.

On the bright side, advancements in cures for diseases, delivery of food, water, and medicines to third world countries, or forging new technologies into space are closer than before because of advancements in this field.

Is Informatics a Science? 

Because the government and corporate world are thirsty for talent who can interpret data and knowledge into information, one suspects the question of whether or not informatics is a science can be waved in favor of it being a science. Companies enroll employees in college programs to develop talent because the potential pay-off for corporate profit is so great. College administrators know a money-making degree when they see one. Informatics may or may not be a science, but a degree in it will give one a competitive edge today.

According to a mini lecture by Josette Jones, Mayo says, “A science has:

  1. a theoretical foundation, a set of generally accepted principles and well-supported general hypotheses, termed a paradigm by Kuhn (1970).
  2. a set of well-validated methods and techniques that do not depend on the underlying paradigm, although interpretation of the results of these methods may depend on the current paradigm.
  3. the ability to directly test hypotheses through empiricism.
  4. the ability to attribute failures in testing to specific features of a hypothesis.
  5. the ability to question the underlying paradigm of the discipline (Week 1 p. 3).”

Bertam et al. suggest that “Defining the central study of informatics as data + meaning allows us to distinguish informatics as a science from computer science, mathematics, statistics, the biomedical sciences and other related fields. It also clarifies each of these fields in informatics” (107).

Validating methods, testing, and attribution can be answered by the Tower of Achievement model as presented by Friedman. The steps of model formation, system development, system deployment, and study of effects nicely address the above list of requirements to be a science.

Friedman's Tower of Achievement


Commonalities between all sub-disciplines of Informatics

Finding the meat of the matter unifies the various sub-disciplines of informatics. E.V. Bernstam et al. say that “Despite the lack of agreement, most definitions, regardless of their category, focus on data, information and knowledge as central objects of study in informatics (105).”

Lingering Questions about Informatics

How will the bar rise as artificial technology continues to better decipher meaning? To what extent would the field change if computers advance enough to determine significant meaning or question the underlying paradigms or disciplines? Deciding who determines meaning and how he or she determines it before programming AI or artificial intelligence requires attention. Courses in informatics ethics should be required.

The science of informatics is inherently interdisciplinary, drawing on (and contributing to) a large number of other component fields, including computer science, decision science, information science, management science, cognitive science, and organizational theory. ~ AMIA.

Consider cross-training your staff in informatics to continue developing your company’s competitive edge.



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Filed under Analytics, Business Strategy, Informatics

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