Relevance

Relevance

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Introduction


The concept of relevance is studied in many different fields, including cognitive sciences, logic and library and information science
Library and information science
Library and information science is a merging of the two fields library science and information science...

. Most fundamentally, however, it is studied in epistemology (the theory of knowledge). Different theories of knowledge have different implications for what is considered relevant and these fundamental views have implications for all other fields as well.

Definition


"Something (A) is relevant to a task (T) if it increases the likelihood of accomplishing the goal (G), which is implied by T." (Hjørland & Sejer Christensen,2002).

A thing might be relevant, a document or a piece of information may be relevant. The basic understanding of relevance does not depend on whether we speak of "things" or "information".

Epistemology


If you believe that schizophrenia is caused by bad communication between mother and child, then family interaction studies become relevant. If, on the other hand, you subscribe to a genetic theory of relevance then the study of genes becomes relevant. If you subscribe to the epistemology of empiricism, then only intersubjectively controlled observations are relevant. If, on the other hand, you subscribe to feminist epistemology
Feminist epistemology
Feminist epistemology is concerned with the way in which gender influences our concept of knowledge and "practices of inquiry and justification". It comes under the umbrella of social epistemology, the broad set of approaches to the study of knowledge. Elisabeth Anderson argues that the concept of...

, then the sex of the observer becomes relevant.

Epistemology is not just one domain among others. Epistemological views are always at play in any domain. Those views determine or influence what is regarded relevant.

Politics


During the 1960s, relevance became a fashionable buzzword
Buzzword
A buzzword is a term of art, salesmanship, politics, or technical jargon that is used in the media and wider society outside of its originally narrow technical context....

, meaning roughly 'relevance to social concerns', such as racial equality
Racial equality
Racial equality means different things in different contexts. It mostly deals with an equal regard to all races.It can refer to a belief in biological equality of all human races....

, poverty
Poverty
Poverty is the lack of a certain amount of material possessions or money. Absolute poverty or destitution is inability to afford basic human needs, which commonly includes clean and fresh water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter. About 1.7 billion people are estimated to live...

, social justice
Social justice
Social justice generally refers to the idea of creating a society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being. The term and modern concept of "social justice" was coined by...

, world hunger
Famine
A famine is a widespread scarcity of food, caused by several factors including crop failure, overpopulation, or government policies. This phenomenon is usually accompanied or followed by regional malnutrition, starvation, epidemic, and increased mortality. Every continent in the world has...

, world economic development
Economic development
Economic development generally refers to the sustained, concerted actions of policymakers and communities that promote the standard of living and economic health of a specific area...

, and so on. The implication was that some subjects, e.g., the study of medieval poetry
Medieval poetry
Because most of what we have was written down by clerics, much of extant medieval poetry is religious. The chief exception is the work of the troubadours and the minnesänger, whose primary innovation was the ideal of courtly love. Among the most famous of secular poetry is Carmina Burana, a...

 and the practice of corporate law
Corporate law
Corporate law is the study of how shareholders, directors, employees, creditors, and other stakeholders such as consumers, the community and the environment interact with one another. Corporate law is a part of a broader companies law...

, were not worthwhile because they did not address pressing social issues.

Logic



In formal reasoning, relevance has proved an important but elusive concept. It is important because the solution of any problem requires the prior identification of the relevant elements from which a solution can be constructed. It is elusive, because the meaning of relevance appears to be difficult or impossible to capture within conventional logical systems. The obvious suggestion that q is relevant to p if q is implied by p breaks down because under standard definitions of material implication, a false proposition implies all other propositions. However though 'iron is a metal' may be implied by 'cats lay eggs' it doesn't seem to be relevant to it the way in which 'cats are mammals' and 'mammals give birth to living young' are relevant to each other. If one states "I love ice cream," and another person responds "I have a friend named Brad Cook," then these statements are not relevant. However, if one states "I love ice cream," and another person responds "I have a friend named Brad Cook who also likes ice cream," this statement now becomes relevant because it relates to the first person's idea.

More recently a number of theorists have sought to account for relevance in terms of "possible world
Possible world
In philosophy and logic, the concept of a possible world is used to express modal claims. The concept of possible worlds is common in contemporary philosophical discourse and has also been disputed.- Possibility, necessity, and contingency :...

 logics" in intensional logic
Intensional logic
Intensional logic is an approach to predicate logic that extends first-order logic, which has quantifiers that range over the individuals of a universe , by additional quantifiers that range over terms that may have such individuals as their value...

. Roughly, the idea is that necessary truths are true in all possible worlds, contradiction
Contradiction
In classical logic, a contradiction consists of a logical incompatibility between two or more propositions. It occurs when the propositions, taken together, yield two conclusions which form the logical, usually opposite inversions of each other...

s (logical falsehoods) are true in no possible worlds, and contingent propositions can be ordered in terms of the number of possible worlds in which they are true. Relevance is argued to depend upon the "remoteness relationship" between an actual world in which relevance is being evaluated and the set of possible worlds within which it is true

Economics


The economist
Economist
An economist is a professional in the social science discipline of economics. The individual may also study, develop, and apply theories and concepts from economics and write about economic policy...

 John Maynard Keynes
John Maynard Keynes
John Maynard Keynes, Baron Keynes of Tilton, CB FBA , was a British economist whose ideas have profoundly affected the theory and practice of modern macroeconomics, as well as the economic policies of governments...

 saw the importance of defining relevance to the problem of calculating risk in economic decision-making. He suggested that the relevance of a piece of evidence, such as a true proposition, should be defined in terms of the changes it produces of estimations of the probability of future events. Specifically, Keynes proposed that new evidence e is irrelevant to a proposition, given old evidence q, if and only if p/q & e = p/q and relevant otherwise.

There are technical problems with this definition, for example, the relevance of a piece of evidence can be sensitive to the order in which other pieces of evidence are received.

Cognitive science and pragmatics


In 1986, Dan Sperber
Dan Sperber
Dan Sperber is a French social and cognitive scientist. His most influential work has been in the fields of cognitive anthropology and linguistic pragmatics: developing, with British psychologist Deirdre Wilson, relevance theory in the latter; and an approach to cultural evolution known as the...

 and Deirdre Wilson drew attention to the central importance of relevance decisions in reasoning and communication. They proposed an account of the process of inferring relevant information from any given utterance. To do this work, they used what they called the "Principle of Relevance": namely, the position that any utterance addressed to someone automatically conveys the presumption of its own optimal relevance. The central idea of Sperber and Wilson's theory is that all utterances are encountered in some context, and the correct interpretation of a particular utterance is the one that allows most new implications to be made in that context on the basis of the least amount of information necessary to convey it. For Sperber and Wilson, relevance is conceived as relative or subjective, as it depends upon the state of knowledge of a hearer when they encounter an utterance.

Sperber and Wilson stress that this theory is not intended to account for every intuitive application of the English word "relevance". Relevance, as a technical term, is restricted to relationships between utterances and interpretations, and so the theory cannot account for intuitions such as the one that relevance relationships obtain in problems involving physical objects. If a plumber needs to fix a leaky faucet, for example, some objects and tools are relevant (i.e. a wrench) and others are not (i.e. a waffle iron). And, moreover, the latter seems to be irrelevant in a manner which does not depend upon the plumber's knowledge, or the utterances used to describe the problem.

A theory of relevance that seems to be more readily applicable to such instances of physical problem solving has been suggested by Gorayska and Lindsay in a series of articles published during the 1990s. The key feature of their theory is the idea that relevance is goal-dependent. An item (e.g., an utterance or object) is relevant to a goal if and only if it can be an essential element of some plan capable of achieving the desired goal. This theory embraces both propositional reasoning and the problem-solving activities of people such as plumbers, and defines relevance in such a way that what is relevant is determined by the real world (because what plans will work is a matter of empirical fact) rather than the state of knowledge or belief of a particular problem solver.

Law



The meaning of "relevance" in U.S. law is reflected in Rule 401 of the Federal Rules of Evidence
Federal Rules of Evidence
The is a code of evidence law governing the admission of facts by which parties in the United States federal court system may prove their cases, both civil and criminal. The Rules were enacted in 1975, with subsequent amendments....

. That rule defines relevance as "having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." In other words, if a fact were to have no bearing on the truth or falsity of a conclusion, it would be legally irrelevant.

Library and information science



This field has considered when documents (or document representations) retrieved from databases are relevant or non-relevant. Given a conception of relevance, two measures have been applied: Precision and recall
Precision and recall
In pattern recognition and information retrieval, precision is the fraction of retrieved instances that are relevant, while recall is the fraction of relevant instances that are retrieved. Both precision and recall are therefore based on an understanding and measure of relevance...

:

Recall = a : (a + c) X 100%, where
a = number of retrieved, relevant documents,
c = number of non-retrieved, relevant documents (sometimes termed "silence").
Recall is thus an expression of how exhaustive a search for documents is.

Precision = a : (a + b) X 100%, where
a = number of retrieved, relevant documents,
b = number of retrieved, non-relevant documents (often termed "noise").

Precision is thus an a measure of the amount of noise in document-retrieval.

Relevance itself has in the literature often been based on what is termed "the system's view" and "the user's view". Hjørland (2010) criticize these two views and defends a "subject knowledge view of relevance".

See also


  • Source criticism
    Source criticism
    A source criticism is a published source evaluation . An information source may be a document, a person, a speech, a fingerprint, a photo, an observation or anything used in order to obtain knowledge. In relation to a given purpose, a given information source may be more or less valid, reliable or...

  • Description
    Description
    Description is one of four rhetorical modes , along with exposition, argumentation, and narration. Each of the rhetorical modes is present in a variety of forms and each has its own purpose and conventions....

  • Information-action ratio
    Information-action ratio
    The information–action ratio was a concept coined by cultural critic Neil Postman in his work Amusing Ourselves to Death. In short, Postman meant to indicate the relationship between a piece of information and what action, if any, a consumer of that information might reasonably be expected to...

  • Intent
    Intent
    Intent in law is the planning and desire to perform an act, to fail to do so or to achieve a state of affairs. In psychological view it may mean a different thing....

  • Relevance theory
    Relevance theory
    Relevance theory is a proposal by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson that seeks to explain the second method of communication: one that takes into account implicit inferences...