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Vancouver Sun – How to stop the digital dark age

DNA may be our only salvation from the relentless decay of data – BY ROGER HIGHFIELD, LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH JANUARY 8, 2014

“Are we sliding into a dark age of information? True, there are some three thousand billion billion bytes of recorded digital information on the planet, and the figure is rapidly rising. However, most of this will be lost to future generations as we use ephemeral recording media and soon-to be-obsolete storage devices, and rely on software whose business models depend on planned obsolescence and compulsory upgrades. If we’re not careful, historians will know more about the beginning of the past century than the start of this one. The contrast between today and the pre-digital era is dramatic. A clay tablet bearing Babylonian observations of Venus 3,500 years ago can still be viewed at the British Museum. But, as my colleagues at the Science Museum carry out research for our forthcoming Information Age gallery, they have found the zeros and ones of digitized information easily succumb to technological change…Data that once were held on magnetic tape or floppy disks are unreadable on today’s equipment and, no doubt, the same fate will befall CDs and other media. Computer files are not worth anything without the software to open them. Even scientists, who put a particular premium on data, are proving unreliable custodians. Tim Vines, of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, sought the data behind 516 ecology studies published between 1991 and 2011. He reports in Current Biology that while data for almost all studies published two years ago were still accessible, the odds of them continuing to be readable fell 17 per cent per year.”

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