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In praise of the humble filing clerk  

We inhabit a multi-truth world, where my truth, based on nothing more than my own crackpot notions, is as worthy as yours, though it be supported by mountains of facts.

Published: 21st June 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th June 2020 07:27 PM   |  A+A-

We inhabit a multi-truth world, where my truth, based on nothing more than my own crackpot notions, is as worthy as yours, though it be supported by mountains of facts. Evidence-based policy making has given way to policy-based evidence finding. ‘This is what I think: Now get me the data to prove I’m right.’ Our leaders urge us to distrust experts and dismiss inconvenient facts. ‘I’m not a doctor, but…’ just about sums this new world up. 

What a place from which to confront a pandemic. 
The hunt for a vaccine suddenly brings experts back into fashion, along with accurate, reliable recorded information on which they can base literally life and death decisions for the whole planet. Now is the time for those who know how to gather, classify and retrieve information—today’s filing clerks—to step forward. They are the ones who can secure for us a single version of the truth.

A Single Version of the Truth. It’s about trying to ensure everyone is accessing the same, the most recent, information on any given topic. It’s about keeping all of an organisation’s information in a single, centralised database, or in distributed but synchronised databases, so that it is consistent and up to date. In short, to ensure that we are all on the same page. The right one.

The ever-expanding range of social media by which we all communicate, and which have been such a blessing during these periods of lockdown and self-isolating, makes this more of a challenge, not less. Vast amounts of information is communicated, and critical decisions made, on personal email accounts, in encrypted WhatsApp chats and unrecorded Zoom meetings. What is kept is held on individual, person accounts not in an organisation’s information system and therefore does not become part of the corporate memory. The result?  There will be multiple versions of the truth.  

None of these are new lessons. The ancient Greeks knew the key principles as well as we do. Retelling the legend of the mythological father of medicine in his book Mythos, Stephen Fry writes that Asclepius’ mentor ‘taught him that knowledge is gained from observation and careful record-keeping rather than from spinning theories.’ Words for our time. 

Scientists and medical researchers will be the ones to find us a vaccine. Planners and logisticians will be the ones to organise production and distribution at speed and to scale. But underpinning all these experts are those who know how to manage and access information so that we can most effectively target and deploy the massive resources required to win this battle. Step forward, the filing clerks. A single version of the truth has never been more important.


Writes as Dawood Ali McCallum, Author of five novels; Mrs A’s Indian Gentlemen, being the latest

Twitter: @dawoodmccallum

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