archiving data

P. F. Stevens peter.stevens at MOBOT.ORG
Thu Apr 27 10:11:30 CDT 2000

>Brian Jones makes an important point.  I know of a dissertation that was
>archived in a "permanent" file on punch cards, I archived all the data for
>my dissertation on punch cards, and the Greene Herbarium database
>(NDG; the first in North America to be computerized) was archived on both
>punch cards and magnetic tape.  Today, all of these are effectively
>unusable.  Over the past five years we have searched for a functional card
>reader - no one has one (I guess we could hire someone to transcribe the
>cards to a current database - but that's a monumental task). Many of us
>have lots of 5.25' diskettes that are on the verge (I have purposely
>maintained two working 5.25" drives) of being unusable (fortunately, I can
>still move the data to a better storage medium).  I read an article
>a couple of years ago predicting that the current CDROM technology would
>be functionally obsolete within about 12-15 years.

To say this is an important point is an understatement!  Vernon Heywood has
on occasion described the fate of the shoeboxes in which data from
revisionary work was stored during the lifetime of the botanist - they were
was thrown away on his/her death.  It also seems that data in molecular
studies are easier to access than comparable data in morphological studies
(i.e. the measurements of individual specimens, etc.).  Unless basic data
are archived and accessible, then work based on those data will end up
being no more than assertions.  One can reanalyse 0s and 1s until one is
blue in the face, but these 0s and 1s are based on observations to which we
may wish to return - and find they are not there.  This seems a sad end if
we think of systematics as trying to become more rigorous, repeatable, etc.

Peter S.

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