Issue name: 012-AssertionConflictingUse

Conflicting use of the term 'assertion'

Raised by:
Frank Manola
Raised on:
2002-08-23
Raised in message:
http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-rdfcore-wg/2002Aug/0226.html
Target document section reference(s):
http://www.w3.org/TR/2002/WD-rdf-concepts-20020829/#section-Social
Status:
Closed
Last updated:
2002-10-25
Owner:
Graham Klyne

Details

Re:
http://www.ninebynine.org/wip/RDF-basics/2002-08-05/Overview.htm#section-Social

ACTION 2002-08-23#7, FrankM:  Propose alternative text for the concepts
and abstract model document to rectify concerns with conflicting use of
"assertion".

To state the problem:

The last sentence but one of Section 2.3.1 says "The RDF model theory
treats RDF as a simple assertional language, in which each triple makes
a distinct assertion...".

The last sentence of the first para of Section 2.3.2 says "A combination
of social (e.g. legal) and technical machinery (protocols, file formats,
publication frameworks) provide the contexts that fix the intended
meanings of the vocabulary of some piece of RDF, and which distinguish
assertions from other uses (e.g. citations, denals or illustrations)."

It seems to me someone might read the first bit as saying "all triples
are assertions" and the second bit as saying "some triples are not
assertions" (e.g., "denals" [sic]), and then wonder what's going on.

The main problem is that the first bit (taken from the model theory) is
taken out of context, since there are a number of caveats elsewhere in
the model theory, e.g., "This only applies to uses of RDF that are
intended to be the assertion of simple propositional content."

Here's my suggestion:  basically, add some stuff to the beginning of the
first paragraph so it reads something like:

2.3.2  Social meaning

While the formal semantics of an RDF statement (triple) is that of a
distinct assertion, individual RDF statements may have a social meaning
that is partly determined by the circumstances in which they are used.
For example, in English, a statement "I don't believe that 'George is a
clown' is true" contains the statement "George is a clown" and,
considering only that statement, "George is a clown" is a distinct
assertion.  However, considering the whole sentence, this wouldn't be
considered an "assertion" (in the socially-understood sense of that
word) that "George is a clown".  Similarly, a collection of RDF
statements could be specified in a circumstance in which the social
meaning was that they were not "assertions", but rather falsehoods
(e.g., a collection of RDF statements describing a web page entitled
"famous Internet myths").  At the same time, however, it is important to
understand that RDF/XML documents, i.e. encodings of RDF graphs, *can*
be used to make representations of claims or assertions about the 'real'
world. RDF graphs may be asserted to be true, and such an assertion
should be understood to carry the same social import and
responsibilities as an assertion in any other format (including an
assertion in a natural language document such as a contract). A
combination of social (e.g. legal) and technical machinery (protocols,
file formats, publication frameworks) provide the contexts that fix the
intended meanings of the vocabulary of some piece of RDF, and which
distinguish assertions from other uses (e.g. citations, denials or
illustrations).

On looking again, I also have a problem with the second paragraph, i.e.,
the one that says:

"For example, a media type, application/rdf+xml [RDF-MIME-TYPE ] is
being registered for indicating the use of RDF/XML that might be
published with the intent of being such an assertional representation
(as distinguished from other XML or text that may just happen to look
like RDF assertions)."

The way this whole paragraph follows the first one, it suggests that the
media type will distinguish between uses of RDF that are intended to be
assertions, and uses of RDF that have other meanings "(e.g., citations,
denials, or illustrations)".  Then the parenthetical remark at the end
comes along: "(as distinguished from other XML or text that may just
happen to look like RDF assertions)", which suggests that this is a
purely technical issue, to disambiguate RDF from text that might "happen
to look like RDF assertions".  I'm not sure this is the same thing.
What I suspect this is saying is that someone might publish RDF
statements in RDF/XML with the intention that these be interpreted as
*other* than assertions (e.g., denials), and that some other media type
will be used to indicate that;  the media type application/rdf+xml is
reserved for RDF/XML that is not only RDF/XML, but is intended to
represent "real assertions".  I suppose you can use the media type that
way if you want to, but I would argue that characterizing RDF/XML
published with the deliberate intent of representing a bunch of denials
as "other XML or text that just happens to look like RDF assertions" is
highly misleading.  If what I suspect you to mean is what you *really*
mean, it would be clearer to state explicitly that the media type is to
distinguish RDF intended to be interpreted as assertions in the social
sense from RDF intended to be interpreted in some other way.

(I know there was some discussion at the telecon about the media type
business, but I missed whether it covered this particular issue or not).

History

2002-08-23: Raised

See: http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-rdfcore-wg/2002Aug/0226.html

[GK] Frank Manola's message in response to RDFcore WG action 2002-08-23#7

2002-09-16: Assigned

[GK] Frank's comments relate to text by GK.

2002-09-30: Response

See: 008-InteractionUnclear.html

I think these comments have been largely addressed by the reworking per issue 008-InteractionUnclear: the discussion of social and technical context is much expended, and the wording in relation to application/rdf+xml has been somewhat decoupled from discussion of assertions.

In response to Frank's comments, I've added an abbreviated form of his "clown" example to section 2.3.2.

2002-10-14: Comment

See: http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-rdfcore-wg/2002Oct/0153.html

Frank not entirely happy with proposed revisions.

2002-10-22: Response

See: http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-rdfcore-wg/2002Oct/0282.html

New reworking proposed.

2002-10-22: Resolved

See: http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-rdfcore-wg/2002Oct/0283.html

Frank agrees!

2002-10-25: Closed

See: http://www.ninebynine.org/wip/RDF-concepts/2002-10-25/rdf-concepts.html

Material incorporated into to publicly accessible document.