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Ghost knowledge


(Adam Black) #1

This post is purely for musing. I came across an interesting blog post about introducing the concept of “ghost knowledge” that might be interesting to others in OHDSI. Link Here is an excerpt:

It is knowledge that is present somewhere in the epistemic community, and is perhaps readily accessible to some central member of that community, but it is not really written down anywhere and it’s not clear how to access it. Roughly what makes something ghost knowledge is two things:

  1. It is readily discoverable if you have trusted access to expert members of the community.
  2. It is almost completely inaccessible if you are not.

In this sense, most knowledge is ghost, particularly if you take an expansive view of what counts as an epistemic community.

The core problem that causes all of this is that there’s a leaky pipeline of knowledge from epistemic communities to the outside world. In order for you to discover a piece of knowledge:

  1. It has to be interesting enough for someone to think it is worth writing down.
  2. It has to be interesting enough that it gets accepted (though if not, it may end up on a random blog post if you’re lucky).
  3. It has to be interesting or well organised enough that it gets surfaced in a way you can find.
  4. It has to be accessible enough for you to be able to find it (e.g. it can’t use super technical terms that you’ll > have no way to ever discover without access to an expert).

This pipeline is leaky enough that it would be very surprising if most knowledge produced by an epistemic community were accessible to you.

This may not seem like a big deal when you think of communities like mathematics, where most consumers of its contents are also members of the community, but it’s a big deal when you consider two things:

  1. Everything is like this, including subjects that everyone would benefit from. I read a lot of therapy books for example and I’ll bet that there’s at least two orders of magnitude more ghost knowledge about therapy than I have access to.
  2. Every community is an epistemic community. Many lessons are e.g. learned over and over again inside companies, and are never written down anywhere, or when they are are so defanged that nobody can benefit from them. The pipeline is different, but the problem is the same.

Given this, we are surrounded by ghosts: The information that is written down and that we can access is so thin on the ground compared to what’s actually out there, it’s astonishing that we ever get anything done.

Reading this makes me think about OHDSI and the incredible amount of effort the community has put into open knowledge and accessibility at all levels. I wonder if there are any particular pieces of ghost knowledge that come to mind though; things that seem obvious from the inside but are not at all obvious to newcomers.


(Patrick Ryan) #2

Thanks @Adam_Black, very pertinent. And @CraigSachson will be leading a ‘OHDSI for Newcomers’ session on the Tuesday community call in just a couple weeks, so I’m very keen to hear answers to this, because we can use that as another forum to un-ghost some of the implicit knowledge within our community.


(Melanie Philofsky) #3

Thank you for sharing, @Adam_Black!

The EHR WG was just discussing ghost knowledge without knowing or using this term. I even suggested to @DTorok we should gather all the ghost knowledge surrounding ETL guidelines & EHR data and add it to The Book of OHDSI.


(Kristin Kostka, MPH) #4

@Adam_Black, I agree with @MPhilofsky. It’s time to update the Book. @sseager and I started last fall and the fatigue of 700 Zoom meetings sucked the life out of us.

Now that we’re basically Pandemic Zombies living in March 366th, it’s probably time to document the ghosts.

Let’s join forces. Feels like a good time to recatalog our ghosts. :wink:


(Melanie Philofsky) #5

Let me know how I can contribute, @krfeeney!


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