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October 30, 2013
By Dorothy Cotton

985 words – MR

HEAD: Transferring knowledge can be tricky

25 years??? Really? Wow!

That’s a good long run for a magazine. I am impressed. In this digital age, it can be hard for print media to complete with electronic stuff. We seem to have no shortage of places to get information. However I find that one of the major problems with all the info floating around cyberspace is that it’s really hard figuring out which stuff is worth listening to. Any idiot can – and does – post stuff on the net.

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There’s a lot of rubbish readily available to all the naive suckers who seem happy to consume it. Consider, for example, all the info about diets. As we all know, wheat is essential/going to kill you/irrelevant/poison/sometimes bad. Or all of the above.

There is so much information and misinformation out there that a whole new area of practice has developed in recent years called “knowledge transfer.” Originally this referred to ensuring simply that people in one arm of a company knew what people down the hall were up to. It has broadened over the years to include transfer of knowledge among different fields and, in particular, trying to find ways of “translating” highly technical knowledge from one field to another. It is not, of course, simply a matter of sending a memo. There is always a context and a caveat – language which might mean one thing in one area could mean something else altogether in another field.

Even common every day words can take on specific meanings. Take the word “significant,” for example. In most scientific research, the word simply refers to the outcome of a statistical process. A “significant” finding might be trivial – but if it meets certain statistical criteria, it is called “significant.” In most of the real world though, the word means something more akin to “worthy of note.”

Where good media differs from the Internet drivel is in its ability to separate the wheat (real facts and knowledge) from the chaff. I like to think that what I do in this column is “knowledge transfer.” Much as the tone is often not particularly serious, the content is. Before I write any column, there is research involved – and it is research from reliable sources – like actual data, for example.

Take one of my favorite pet peeve issues – the common myth that police officers commit suicide as often as I change my underwear. Don’t get me wrong – even one suicide is three too many – but in spite of the gazillion web sites dedicated to this topic, few have real data to support their claims. Why do we care?

We care because we really do want to prevent suicides. If we go off half-cocked thinking there is some special reason why police officers kill themselves, we may miss the real causes – which are the same in policing as for anyone else – family and relationship issues, depression, substance use, financial problems. It hasn’thing to do with bad guys so we need reliable sources or we will never really address the problem.

What does this have to do with knowledge transfer and ? Legitimate media engages in a practice called “fact checking.” If someone wants to publish something, they have to offer some evidence they actually know what they are talking about. There are various ways to do this. Editors may phone experts and confirm the facts to be published. In my case, that comes in the way of professional credentials and licensure. If I write a bunch of unsupported malarkey in this column, my regulatory body can – and will – get on my case. You’d be surprised how many media psychologists have lost their licenses or decided to hand them in – people like Dr. Phil, for example.

Good print media has the time and wherewithal to verify that the people who are writing have actually done their homework and know what they are talking about. If gets a submission on a topic related to psychology but not written by someone with credentials in this field, for example, they run it past me. It does not mean that I have to agree with or approve it – but I can pick out baloney pretty well.

I note that many of you who have media experience are rolling your eyes. You likely have had the experience of being interviewed by the media and having two words you said completely taken out of context. Yup, me too. Again, it means we have to choose our words carefully. Even simple words can mean different things.

I used to hear police officers talk about “files.” To me, a file is a cardboard paper thing folded in half – you can stick papers in it. What you call a file I would call a “case.” I guess that is the other part of knowledge transfer – being able to interpret and evaluate what you read – an informed consumer of information. Just because someone said it, claims someone said it or posted it on the net does not make it fact – and just because you don’t happen to agree with it doesn’t make it folly.

You have to use your judgment about what information you use and how you use it. You also have to hope that the public and your colleagues do the same thing. Alas, it is often a futile hope – but you gotta do the best you can – or you can try to focus on reliable sources. You do that every day in your work. You might want to do that with the media as well.

Why read anything at all if there is so much garbage out there? Remember that competency we actually use to select new officers? I believe it is called “continuous learning orientation?” That’s why – because the scariest people are the people who don’t know what they don’t know.

Keep reading.


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