I think the names of groups and documents are pretty much irrelevant. Yes, for my own convenience I give them names meaningful to me. But it’s the content of documents that’s important.
My main database deals with environmental interests. That pulls in a broad range of scientific and technical disciplines, from chemistry to toxicology to food and agriculture to molecular biology and genetics and yes, ecology. And economics, engineering, law and policy. And cultural patterns and behaviors. Energy sources and alternatives, geology, hydrology and geopolitics.
Take a case such as high arsenic concentrations in a community water well in Pakistan. There are many such wells that have arsenic levels high enough to raise concerns about the health effects on people drinking the water. Some wells are more contaminated than others. Approaches to sampling and analysis run into issues of economics and available resources. Evaluation of alternatives should take into account history. In many cases, previous water use involved contaminated surface water that resulted in a high incidence of cholera and other waterborne pathogens that had even worse health effects. So there had been governmental and nongovernmental funding and encouragement of development of ground water resources to reduce the high mortality rates resulting from consumption of contaminated surface water.
Indeed, there had been demonstrable reductions in mortality rates, especially childhood mortality, resulting from the historical push away from pathogen-contaminated surface water. But the unforeseen levels of arsenic contamination in some subsurface water resulted in a new environmental problem.
Technically, it is easy to remove arsenic from drinking water, although there is an associated cost. In the case of a poor community in Pakistan, however, the question as to what technology to use, especially in light of resources and questions as to who pays and how the cost is to be borne makes solution of the environmental problem complex. Some technologies are very simple and inexpensive, but require education as to how to use them, and understanding and adoption of the procedures by the affected population.
And of course one should worry that simply frightening people away from contaminated well water might lead them to return to drinking pathogen-laden surface water. So we have information and communication issues.
I talked about that case to emphasize the point that few if any environmental issues can be understood or addressed within a narrow context.
Some environmentalists advocate the precautionary principle as a guide to decision making about adoption of new technologies, or even continued use of existing technologies. Basically, the precautionary principle states that if a technology has, or could have, any adverse impact then it should not be adopted. My opinion is that the precautionary principle is one of the dumbest possible decision rules and leads to decisions much worse than the decision to move from surface water to ground water in some areas of Pakistan.
We talk about “sustainability” a great deal in environmental policy literature. There are some basic and true principles embodied in that concept. But many use the term as wrongly as the concept was presented in a book “Global 2000: The Limits to Growth” back in the 1970s. The resource predictions in that book were wrong, because it was assumed that human behavior is too static and unadaptable to change when problems are presented. Some use the concept to argue that human society must revert to a much more primitive lifestyle to remain sustainable. Sorry, guys. I know that hoe-culture agriculture is the most energy efficient and land use efficient, but I don’t intend to spend all my time chopping weeds with a hoe. That’s not the necessary solution to our environmental problems.
OK, so I’ve got tens of thousands of reference materials covering a number of disciplinary areas. How do I organize them?
I treat a group as a cluster of related contents. Most of my groups are not tightly subdivided, although in progress of a project sometimes I’ll subdivide a group if that seems useful. I’ve got 657 groups at the moment. I’ve split out into a separate database many thousands of strictly technical references such as chemical analytical methodologies, sampling protocols, statistical data evaluation procedures and the like into a separate database. Most of my projects deal with analysis of specific problems, comparisons of regulatory approaches between the U.S. and the EU, a variety of policy issues and the like. I often seek an overview of issues – how a number of factors fit together in giving a picture of the problem or issue.
I don’t spend much time on organization of database contents. That’s because I’ve learned that the next project really won’t benefit from time spent organizing for the previous project.
I do use See Also a great deal, and sometimes the related “See Selected Text” to isolate for the AI routine a particular paragraph or section of a document that is of interest.
I neither want nor expect See Also to suggest a list of other documents that are “just like” the one I’m reading. Instead, I’ll be interested in finding new relationships that I hadn’t thought of. That’s rather like serendipity, but with computer assistance to help me explore my database in new ways. Many times I’ll do a trail of See Also operations, running See Also on a suggested document, and then again on something interesting that pops up on that suggested list. Once in a while there’s a Eureka! experience, and then all the time spent in gathering fodder for the database seems worthwhile.
DT Pro isn’t a chemist or ecologist. The database doesn’t “know” anything about these disciplines, or any other. It’s the responsibility of the user to understand and interpret the usefulness of the AI suggestions. But it can be a very useful interactive process.