Conflicting use of the term 'assertion'
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).
[GK] Frank Manola's message in response to RDFcore WG action 2002-08-23#7
[GK] Frank's comments relate to text by GK.
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.
Frank not entirely happy with proposed revisions.
New reworking proposed.
Material incorporated into to publicly accessible document.