Bo Sundgren – An intellectual biography – No. 3 Where are the articles?

We have already noted that Bo finished his doctoral thesis in the early 1970s. What happened after that?

According to his blog, he was a professor of information management 1979-1982 and 1987-2003. Inbetween he was also a professor, but unclear of what and for how long.

If we then look at his list of publications we find no publications before 1991, and no publications at all in leading academic journals about informatics or information management!

What we have here is the strange phenomenon of a professor of information management, who during most of his career has not published a single article in a leading academic journal.

It gets worse. He has also practically no publications at all in any academic journals. So, what has this “professor” been doing?

It turns out that Bo Sundgren’s “career” as an “expert” on informatics and information management is a closed-shop, public sector career. He has mainly published himself through his institutional affiliations, especially the Stockholm School of Economics, Statistics Sweden, EU projects and the UN.

What is the credibility of an “expert” and professor of information modelling and information management, who has practically never published himself in an academic journal?

Has anyone ever really peer-reviewed Bo?

We could of course also flipp this around, give Bo the benefit of the doubt, and look for structural explanations. If so,

1. There may be something seriously wrong with the communication between NSO and ISO systems research and that of the rest of the informatic community. If so, why?

2. The NSO metadata circuit may be doing something that is of little or no interest to the rest of the informatics community. If so, why?

– Because it is so special and different?

– Because it does not contain anything special or new?

Which ever way we go with this, it does not look good. Exactly what is wrong with this picture?

Maybe we can find an answer to this question if we take a closer look at the contents of what Bo has published?

Bo Sundgren – An intellectual biography – No. 2 Pioneer or phony?

Here is professor Bo Sundgren’s own description of the results of his doctoral thesis from his blog (I also copied the links):

“His doctoral thesis, An Infological Approach to Data Bases, introduced the OPR(t) methodology for conceptual modelling of reality and information about reality, as well as the metadata concept, and a methodology for modelling aggregated statistical data by means of multidimensional hypercubes, the alfa-beta-gamma-tau methodology

As we have seen, international discussions and proposals about information modelling were already well under way when Bo was finishing his thesis. What, exactly, did Bo contribute to this?

On page 454ff in his thesis he discussed this himself. He suggested that his theory was more general and that there were still hopes for a more general data base theory that would combine the IBM, CODASYL and his own infological approach.

He also commented specifically on Codd’s relational database model:

“However, the marketing of Codd’s ideas might have given somebody the false impression that the relational approach to data bases would solve the bulk of data base problems”


We would like to know what happened with this? Has his OPR(t) model caught on? Did anyone, internationally, know about it, try to use it, or comment on it? Exactly how new and revolutionary was this OPR(t) model? Was this model perhaps just a rip off or a simple reformulation of what was self-evident, already known, or had been developed elsewhere? Did Bo already then have a poor sense of what is important and applicable in the real world? Was there ever a more general theory of data bases? How does it relate to existing standards today, such as UML?

Similar questions can be asked about the alpha-beta-tau model. What is the difference between this model and classical data warehouse dimensional modelling? When did the theory of dimensional modelling develop for the first time? If Bo was first, why is this not more well known?

I do not have a final answer to these questions. However, my point is something else:

1. It seems that Bo made a serious error of judgement. The relational model has indeed solved the bulk of data base problems. In fact, his own alpha-beta-tau Nordic model for statistical databases is implemented using that model.

2. Informatics in national statistical agencies, including metadata modelling, seems to have a life of its own, without proper interaction with the rest of the informatics community. This is a serious issue, and it begins with Bo.

3. What exactly is the value of Bo’s theorizing to the resolution of practical problems? Why is he allowed to produce one report after the other without having to produce real results?

Back to the initial question: Is Bo a pioneer or a phony?

My answer is that the real issue is that no one in the NSO metadata circuit seems to have asked this question; and that we will never know unless this circuit is properly integrated in the general informatics community.

Has Bo ever published any of his theories and models outside of this circuit, in leading academic or other journals about informatics and computing? If not, why not?

The importance of this issue of splendid isolation – from the informatics community and from evaluation based on practical results – will become clearer as we move on with Bo Sundgren’s intellectual biography.

Bo Sundgren – An intellectual biography – No. 1 Introduction

So, here it is! The decade by decade intellectual biography of the mother of all statistical metadata charlatanism: professor Bo Sundgren from Sweden.

Since we are dealing with a professor we should have a basis in theory. The big theoretical picture has already been presented on this blog. James C. Scott and the book Seeing Like a State. Scott explains how the industrial “high modernist” paradigm fails when confronted with the living complexity or human reality, in agriculture, urban planning, etc.

That is the issue that this is all about. The alpha and omega of “statistical metadata” research. To what extent is it possible to:

1. Reduce complexity between surveys in an NSO via standardisation?

2. Develop fully integrated generic models and systems for metadata and or the production of statistics in an NSO/ISO environment?

And, the million dollar question that follows:

Since these people have failed again and again, why are they unable to learn from their own mistakes?

In a way, I have already answered the last question. They do not want to because:

1. They want to keep milking this for public funding.

2. They do not want to reveal themselves as quacks.

This story begins in the 1970s, in an isolated, remote, dark, cold, forrested, and lake covered European province, in the city of Stockholm, Sweden. A country with free love, high taxes and suicide.

This is still the heyday of the main frame. There are no PCs, no graphical interfaces as we know them today, and no Networks. The main information modelling issues are still under debate and the hierarchical model is still dominant. Relational databases (Codd 1969) and entity-relational modelling (Chen 1976) are still mostly on the drawing board.

Bo Sundgren is working on his doctoral thesis. It is in this thesis that he is the first person who coins the term metadata – at least according to him. It is published in 1973, and the title is Infological Approaches to Data Bases. So, what was this thesis all about?

Stay tuned for the next episode!

Progressing considerably?

SDMX now has an “action plan”. Wow! I love the word “action”!

According to this plan, SDMX has been “progressing considerably” during the last ten years. Great!

I then attempt to read what the progress has consisted of, but I all I find are things that only make bureaucrats happy.  The bulk of the “progress” listed in this “action plan” consists of organizational developments, infra structure and official recognition. Not real results!

Also, out of four headings, there is only one that really discusses “progress”. That is the heading “implementation”:

“Transition from GESMES/TS to SDMX in 2003”

Sure! But this tells us very little about real implementation. It may just refer to a formal decission. In any case, just replacing GESMES is of little interest, in the bigger picture.

“SDMX web services adopted by a growing number of statistical organisations”

Really, and what does that mean, in plain English? “Adopt”? “Web services”? “Growing” number? Does the latter mean that there are now two NSOs instead of one? Wow, that would be a 100% increase! But, is it considerable progress?

“continuous increase of statistical domains creating and using SDMX compliant data structure and metadata structure definitions”

A “continuous increase”. That sounds impressive! So, one became two and two then became three? How many are there now? Three instead of one? How many NSOs use each domain?

I suppose that these questions are a bit too impertinent. This is bureaucracy-land. In this land there is a statute that regulates clarity. Clarity is forbidden most of the time, because it can be embarassing to civil servants.

Well, I am not entirely fair! This is what they also had to say:

“The SDMX Global Conference in May 2011 confirmed that SDMX is broadly used by statistical organisations along the statistical business processes. Many statistical organisations around the world consider SDMX as useful or even very useful”.

Great! They quote themselves. That is another good way of avoiding uncomfortable truths. (The survey presented at the 2011 conference has allready been reviewed in detail on this blog).

There is also one or two words about implementation in ISOs – not NSOs!

Do you know what I think?

If the SDMX consortium have hard core statistics to prove their supposed “progress” in relation to NSOs they would be pushing them ad nauseam. We would here about 30% this and 50% this, etc.

The very fact that they are not doing this is what suggests the true nature of ten year of SDMX “progress”.

By the way, the “action plan” is directed towards international agencies, and has little or nothing to do with NSOs. It would seem that these international organisations are going ahead, even if they have a lack of support from NSOs.

There is nothing like prestige to fuel irrational courses of action…

A result of this is that a future failure for SDMX will be all the more costly.

It is the NSO business case, stupid!

It is almost ten years now

In Denmark’s contribution to the 2011 October METIS meeting, we find a description of NSO metadata reality that has not changed much in ten years.

At the beginning of the 2000s Denmark was involved in the development of more integrated metadata models.

This is the so called third generation problem.

1st generation is simply to create some common standard, template or shared database, however simple.

2nd generation is to add complexity to existing systems.

3rd generation is to integrate existing systems.

Ten years later still no progress with 3rd generation issues, at Statistics Denmark.

Here is what they write:

“We are all the time trying to define a metadata model that would link all aspects of metadata. We would prefer this to be an international model that would allow us to work closely with NSIs from other countries and increasingly share solution”

Well, that problem has already been solved.

Just send me an e-mail and I can set you on the right path!

Or, perhaps you prefer to wait for the GSIM? Like you waited for the COSMOS model, and the Metanet model, and the Neuchatel for Variables model, and Part B of the METIS framework, and TIMES?

For the conceptually impaired

At the latest METIS meeting (October 2011) there was a group discussion.

This discussion was a communal version of Jenny Linnerud’s search for objects in relation to the GSBPM. (Notice again how GSBPM without ever having been conceived as such has become a lynch pin).

Here are the results for the first phase. Remember that I suggested that the GSIM should start by clarifying what they mean by “needs”? Well, here it is… or not. The following are described as candidate “objects” for the GSIM:

“User needs

Survey description

Survey objectives

       Legal framework

       Statistical outputs

Quality measures for statistical outputs


Data Source”

Here  is the million dollar question: How many of these “objects” can you envision as concrete object classes/entities/ tables in a relational database in a real-world metadata or other statistical system?

Wagging the dog?

Here is a thought.

GSBPM describes, yes what does it describe?

HLG-BAS are planning a meeting for strategic alignment of groups working towards the industrialization of statistics. For them, GSBPM, seems to be a core project. It is even described as a framework.

But, in what way can GSBPM serve as a framework for industrialization of statistics?

Was it ever conceived as such?

Again, we face the results of the failure to develop a proper framework for, yes for what?