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Re: The (long) future of paleontology

On 1/17/06, Neil Taylor (Home) <nf.taylor@ntlworld.com> wrote:
> I'm not normally in a position to add much to Paleo discussions, having
> done no Paleo since undergraduate days, but I can sensibly comment on
> digital data.
> Just because 1s and 0s are "perfect" and in principle preservable, do
> not be deceived into thinking that this is the best archive medium.
> There are all too many problems with digital data, even beyond the
> actual frailty of the physical storage medium used to hold the binary
> data.  How many facilities can now read punched cards? 8" floppy disks?
> Laser discs (the big 12" jobs, not CD-ROMs)? .. the list goes on...
> Serious digital archives are now starting to archive mothballed readers
> along with the recorded data.

You're missing the primary reason digital media are more preservable:
perfect replicability. Post a digital paper to the Internet and within
short order there may be thousands of copies worldwide, and perfect
copies at that. Each copy is capable of being the template for an
infinite number of further perfect copies. At this point, to destroy
the paper and be certain you'd destroyed it, you'd pretty much have to
raze the entire expanse of human-inhabited land on Earth.

Furthermore, we have a somewhat unfair view of the changeability of
file formats because we are living so early in the digital age. New
technologies always takes a while to stabilize. And even while formats
are changing, nothing prevents us from creating programs to migrate
data from one format to another.

That said, there's nothing wrong with keeping hardcopies*--why put all
your eggs in one basket?

* Well, except perhaps for the environmental impact of paper
production (deforestation, release of toxins [bleach], etc.) Not that
the production of computers doesn't have adverse efffects as well, but
at least it isn't significantly increased every time you copy a file.
Mike Keesey
The Dinosauricon: http://dino.lm.com
Parry & Carney: http://parryandcarney.com