Tuesday, December 13, 2022

NEW "DATA MODELS" 5.1 (t&n)

Note: "Then & Now" (T&N) is a new version of what used to be the "Oldies but Goodies" (OBG) series. To demonstrate the superiority of a sound theoretical foundation relative to the industry's fad-driven "cookbook" practices, as well as the evolution/progress of RDM, I am re-visiting my 2000-06 debunkings, bringing them up to my with my knowledge and understanding of today. This will enable you to judge how well my arguments have held up and appreciate the increasing gap between scientific progress and the industry’s stagnation, if not outright regress.


This is a re-published series of several DBDebunk 2001 exchanges about Simon Wlliams' so-called "Associative Model of Data" (AMD), academic claims of its superiority over RDM ("The Associative Data Model Versus the Relational model") and predictions of the demise of the latter ("The decline and eventual demise of the Relational Model of Data").

Part 1 was an email exchange among myself (FP), Chris Date (CJD) and Lee Fesperman (LF) in reaction to Williams' claims that started the series.
Part 2 was my response to a reader's email questioning our dismissal of Williams's claims.
Part 3 was my email exchange with Williams, where he provided his definition of a data model on which I conditioned any discussion with him and where I debunked it.
Part 4 is my response to a reader's comments on Parts 1-3.


DBDebunk was maintained and kept free with the proceeds from my @AllAnalitics column. The site was discontinued in 2018. The content here is not available anywhere else, so if you deem it useful, particularly if you are a regular reader, please help upkeep it by purchasing publications, or donating. On-site seminars and consulting are available.Thank you.



11/10 NEW "DATA MODELS" 4 (t&n)



12/22 Added Finitary Relation to LINKS page

08/20 Added Logic and databases course to LINKS page.

- 08/19 Logical Symmetric Access, Data Sub-language, Kinds of Relations, Database Redundancy and Consistency, paper #2 in the new UNDERSTANDING THE REAL RDM series.
- 02/18 The Key to Relational Keys: A New Understanding, a new edition of paper #4 in the PRACTICAL DATABASE FOUNDATIONS series.
- 04/17 Interpretation and Representation of Database Relations, paper #1 in the new UNDERSTANDING THE REAL RDM series.
- 10/16 THE DBDEBUNK GUIDE TO MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT DATA FUNDAMENTALS, my latest book (reviewed by Craig Mullins, Todd Everett, Toon Koppelaars, Davide Mauri).

- To work around Blogger limitations, the labels are mostly abbreviations or acronyms of the terms listed on the
FUNDAMENTALS page. For detailed instructions on how to understand and use the labels in conjunction with that page, see the ABOUT page. The 2017 and 2016 posts, including earlier posts rewritten in 2017 were relabeled accordingly. As other older posts are rewritten, they will also be relabeled. For all other older posts use Blogger search.
- The links to my AllAnalytics columns no longer work. I re-published only the 2017 columns @dbdebunk, and within them links to sources external to AllAnalytics may or may not work.

I deleted my Facebook account. You can follow me @DBDdebunk on Twitter: will link to new posts to this site, as well as To Laugh or Cry? and What's Wrong with This Picture? posts, and my exchanges on LinkedIn.


(originally published  August 2002)

An article by Edward Hurley ("Is It Time to Get Lazy?") about Simon Williams' Lazy Software has recently come to my attention. I had published a couple of exchanges on Williams' so-called "Associative Model of Data" (AMD). Hurley had asked for my advice on the subject, but none of it made his article. So I contacted his editor (who also happens to be the editor for my recently terminated Against the Grain column (see "On the Trade Media’s 'Balance' - Another One Bites the Dust") and argued in quite strong language that at the very least there should have been some reference to criticism of Williams's "data model", be it mine or others’ (well, since the editor deems me "irascible" anyway, I might as well give him reason). The editor said that Hurley's was a "news piece" that "wasn't meant as analysis" and that Hurley, as "a journalist and not a DBA or database guru, relied on contacts and experts to give him their opinions"; because I refused to offer such, I should not complain.

I will get shortly to the important issue of whether journalists should have some notion about the technology they cover and the obvious implications for the readers if they don't. But:

  • Was the article news, not "analysis"?
  • Did I really "refuse" to provide advice?

You be the judge.

The History (see  previous parts listed above):

1. In July the previous year I posted an exchange between myself and Lee Fesperman regarding Williams' claims:

  • Lee drew my attention to some online exchange in which Williams was making the very same claims which, as Lee pointed out to him, had already been posted as one of my site’s Quotes-of-the-Week;
  • In his reply to Lee, Williams invoked positive assessments of his AMD by two “respected technical analysts", Butler and Bloor and invited me to debate him on the subject;
  • I replied that the number of errors that he managed to squeeze into one paragraph and the nonsense of those errors were impressive; I included Chris Date's comments on Bloor that threw into question his "respectability"; and I issued the following challenge: “If Williams knows what a data model is, let him provide the definition and then explain how his so-called "associative model" satisfies it."

2. On August 25 I further debunked Williams' claims in a long exchange with a reader who had read Williams' book and responded to the July exchange.

3. It was much later that I heard from Williams ("On What Is a Data Model"):

  • He did not initially provide a definition, but tried to convince me that his AMD was superior to the RDM;
  • I countered that until he demonstrated he understood what a data model is, there was no point to any debate;
  • Finally, he emailed me his notion of a definition. My assessment of his "definition" was as follows:  
  • "... it is too long. It includes unnecessary historical details. Only the very last part contains what can be deemed a definition, and my guess is that much of the text is lifted from other sources. Be that as it may, even that lacks one critical ingredient -- the theoretical foundation."
  • I stated the correct definition and I issued a more specific challenge: "The question is does Williams understand the "definition" that he cites? If so, and if Williams’ AMD is a data model, then:
  • On what theory is it based?
  • What are -- precisely, please! -- AMD's structural, integrity and manipulation equivalents to RDM's and how are they different from, let alone superior to, the relational ones?"
  • I am still waiting for his response.

4. In December I received an email from Hurley, a reporter for TechTarget at the time, requesting my input for an article on Lazy Software he was writing:

"I'm looking to do a story about the product and Lazy's claims about its Associative Model of Data. Is the model a viable alternative to relational databases? What makes the AMD model different than relational databases? Would you be available this week to discuss the AMD model with me? I can send you some detailed questions if that would help. Thank you for any time you can spare."
Note that he was looking for an analysis/evaluation of Williams’ claims, not just to report on them.

I responded as follows:

  • The answer is very simple, but in order to really understand it and write intelligently about it, you need to do some homework before I can discuss it with you. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to this.
  • AMD is not a data model at all and, therefore, it cannot possibly be an alternative to the RDM. Like a vast majority of practitioners, Simon Williams and those who refer to AMD as a data model -- including "respected analysts" -- do not know what a data model is. Hard to believe, but true.
  • I am attaching my exchange with Williams. I am still waiting for his reply to my questions that I asked him both in a public article and in the attached exchange. Don't hold your breath.
  • I suggest you read my above-mentioned posts on AMD (as well as "Something To Call One's Own" and Date's "Models, Models, Everywhere, Nor Any Time To Think").
  • This is important not just for your current article, but for anything you will write on database management. If you focus just on products and vendors and don't know the fundamentals, you are likely to fall into the same trap that most trade journalists fall into. Furthermore, almost everything you hear or read on the subject of databases is simply wrong, but you have no way of detecting this without adequate education on the subject.
  • I will be glad to answer any specific questions you might have after you review the material and even help you along in your future endeavors. In particular, I will advise you what questions you should ask to determine whether the claims have any legs to stand on.”

I never heard from Hurley again. So much for his "reliance on experts". My readers know that the sources I referred him to answer precisely the questions that Hurley was asking.

This is why I told his editor as follows:

  • Journalists need not be experts, but should have some idea about the basics of the subject matter and discern when they're being sold a bill of goods.
  • Anybody can wake up in the morning and say something -- how do you establish that it is news? Declaring AMD is nonsense -- would that be news? What are the criteria for what is news, other than that vendor announcement?
  • A journalist -- particularly if he does not know anything on the subject -- should do some minimal research to educate himself? How does Hurley know Williams claims -- or even mine -- make sense?
  • A reason I am usually reluctant to offer advice in the absence of basic knowledge is that each time I did, it was either ignored, or bastardized. I had published on Williams and his AMD -- did Hurley do any search?
  • The problem is not only that journalists don’t have minimal knowledge, they don’t care to acquire it -- they simply regurgitate what vendors say, which is easier than spending time and effort assessing it.

As to Hurley’s article, stay tuned for my debunking.

And Now

Nothing to add on re-publication, except to reference my writings since:

(Continued in Part 5.2)





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