Informatics is a Social Science

Date01 February 1973
Published date01 February 1973
AuthorJohn Hawgood
Subject MatterHR & organizational behaviour
progress Informatics is
a Social Sciencea
John Hawgood
The intention of this papera is to explain the meaning of the
word 'informatics', which is coming into use more slowly in
Britain than elsewhere, and to show that informatics is a
logical and structured academic discipline, with practical
implications for people, with which social scientists should
be concerned and which consequently should be taught to
students and practitioners of the social sciences.
Definition of Informatics and Comments on Terms Used
Informatics is the whole complex of social and technical
fields concerned with the analysis of the information needs
of administrators, the design and development of manual
and automatic systems to turn raw data into useful
information and the assessment of human factors and
grasping of human opportunities in the introduction of
such systems.
Social fields mainly involved are psychology, sociology,
economics and politics (possibly also anthropology and
Technical fields mainly involved are management science
(including accountancy and operational research) and
computing science.
Administrative information is needed to help administrators
in any type of organization in making and recommending
decisions, and should be presented in the form most
appropriate for this purpose. Information in this sense is
not synonymous with the same word as used in 'informa-
tion dissemination', 'information retrieval' or 'information
Data is the raw material from which useful information can
be produced by checking, sorting, correlation, condensation
and tabulation. It includes facts about people (clients,
customers, citizens,
shareholders), about money
prices, wages, pensions, taxes, rates, fees, discounts,
rebates), about things (raw materials, components,
products, machines, buildings, roads), about organizations
(government, commercial, political, social) and about
principles (statute law, case law, rules of
rules of
Systems comprise people, procedures and programs as well
as machines such as cash registers, comptometers and
Human factors in system design include emotional factors
such as fear of redundancy, of loss of privacy, or of
harassment, as well as ergonomic and other physical factors.
Human opportunities in the introduction of new systems
include the chance to improve the quality of life for staff
(by removal of drudgery and making use of formerly-
wasted talents) and for clients (by providing for individual
needs as well as for routine processing).
'The computer', said H Zemanek,b 'is neither a brain nor a
complete idiot, as one sometimes can hear. I prefer another
comparison. Somebody has classified people into three
categories: into the uneducated, who see only disorder; into
the half-educated, who see and follow the rules; and into
the educated, who see and appreciate the exceptions. The
computer clearly belongs to the category of half-educated.
Following rules, quickly and precisely, is the faculty in
which the computer beats the human being. Another
property of the half-educated, being hostile to exceptions,
a This paper is an abridged version of a lecture sponsored by the
Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Durham and
delivered by the author on 19 January 1973.
In his vice-presidential address to the International Federation for
Information Processing at its 10th anniversary celebrations in 1970.

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