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A Data Deluge Swamps Science Historians

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Large Hadrone Collider

The next generation of experiments, like the Large Hadron Collider, a powerful particle accelerator beneath the border of Switzerland and France, will be even more data-intensive.

Credit: CERN

The British Library's Jeremy Leighton John is working to find ways of archiving the massive amounts of data being generated and studied by scientists so future generations can authenticate and better understand today's discoveries. Scientists who collaborate over email, Google, YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook are leaving behind fewer physical records, and often the information technology systems used in their research efforts are incomprehensible to other researchers and historians.

Computer-intensive experiments can create millions of gigabytes of data, which is stored and retrieved using electronic systems that quickly become obsolete. "It would be tragic if there were no record of lives that were so influential," John says.

San Diego Supercomputer Center experts say that never before have so many people been able to generate so much digital data, or been able to lose so much of it so quickly. Every 15 minutes, computer users worldwide generate enough digital data to fill the U.S. Library of Congress. This problem is forcing historians to become scientists and scientists to become archivists. Digital records cannot be read without the right hardware, software, and passwords, and electronic records are difficult to verify and easy to alter or forge.

Researchers are scrambling to find ways of preserving digital records to ensure that the information produced by today's scientists will still be accessible to researchers and historians in the future.

From The Wall Street Journal
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Abstracts Copyright © 2009 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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