Sunday, March 8, 2009

Managing Digital Data

Developing the framework to effectively provide access to digital scientific data is the goal for the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Science and their Interagency Working Group on Digital Data. The Group published the report “Harnessing the Power of Digital Data for Science and Society” in January 2009 that examines how digital technologies are reshaping science and the tools that scientists need to deal effectively with the data.

Digital imaging, sensors, analytical instrumentation, and other technologies are becoming important in all areas of science. Digital technologies are changing and revolving due to the expansion of networked cyber infrastructure and all the new technologies that now or will be used to make observations of unprecedented quality, detail, and scope. As a result, the need for access to all this form of information will greatly increase around the world.

Today there are revolutionary sensor systems, massive databases, digital libraries, unique visualization environments, and complex computational models. While digital technologies are the engine of this revolution, the fuel is digital data. Data that is “born digital” which means the data is available only in digital form and preserved only electronically is now becoming the primary output of science. The total volume of digital data and the rates at which the data is being created globally is increasing at a very rapid rate.

There are a number of issues that can affect managing the enormous amount of data now and that will be even more evident in future years. Some of the prime problems that need to be examined concern the loss of digital data, decay of the storage media, dependence on outmoded formats or systems, and errors in reading, writing, and transmission. In addition, data may be put at risk of being discarded because the owner is no longer identifiable or available. Strategies for mitigating these risks include management planning, controlled redundancy, managing migration to new technologies, and developing error checking schemes.

The Interagency Working Group on Digital Data has worked with nearly 30 agencies, offices, and councils to develop strategic requirements. The Group came to the conclusion that digital data challenges can’t be met by the federal government or any one sector acting alone. Government at the federal, state, and local levels, industry, academia, foundations, international organizations, and individuals are all participants and need to address the capabilities needed for digital information preservation and access.

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