Holes and Parts

What keeps a mouse contained in a box?

It is the way a box prevents motion in all directions. Each board bars escape in a certain direction. The left side keeps the mouse from going left, the right from going right, the top keeps it from leaping out, and so on.

The secret of a box is simply in how the boards are arranged to prevent motion in all directions. That’s what containing means.

It’s silly to expect any separate board by itself to contain any containment, even though each contributes to the containing. It is like the cards of a straight flush in poker; only the full hand has any value at all.

The same applies to words like life and mind. It is foolish to use these words for describing the smallest components of living things because these words were invented to describe how larger assemblies interact. Like boxing-in, words like living and thinking are useful for describing phenomena that result from certain combinations of relationships.

None of the 15 FAIR principles1 contain FAIR. A digital resource will not become “more FAIR” when it adheres to one rather than none of the principles.

However, just like life has gradually lost much of its mystery – at least for modern biologists, because they understand so many of the important interactions among the chemicals in cells – FAIR can be demystified by understanding how the components of a well-made FAIR resource interact to facilitate reuse and repurposing.2

This post was adapted from a note sent to my email list on Machine-Centric Science.
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  1. M. D. Wilkinson et al., “The FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship,” Sci Data, vol. 3, no. 1, p. 160018, Mar. 2016, doi: 10/bdd4. ↩︎

  2. I’ve been going over the FAIR principles one by one on my podcast. Each such episode has averaged about five minutes. ↩︎