Data are the common currency that unites all fields of science. As science progresses data proliferate, providing points of reference, revealing trends, and offering evidence to substantiate hypotheses. Decades into the digitization of science, however, data proliferate exponentially, at times threatening to drown knowledge and information in a sea of noise.
One of the most interesting articles***, however, attempts to quantify exactly how much data we’re actually talking about and makes a key distinction between data and information. In “The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate and Compute Information” Martin Hilbert, a doctoral candidate the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in Los Angeles, and Priscila López Pavez, a graduate student studying information and knowledge in society at the Open University of Catalonia in Santiago, Chile, report on their efforts to track 60 analog and digital technologies during the period from 1986 to 2007. The researchers found that the amount of data generated those two decades exploded as digital technology moved into the mainstream. For example, the amount of data stored electronically in 2007 was equivalent to 61 CD-ROMs per person living on the planet at the time. For perspective, if those CDs were stacked, they would reach from Earth to the moon plus a quarter of that distance beyond.
*** The “articles” (more than 10) that are referred to in the story are available for free from Science. You’ll need to register here.