Saturday, August 30, 2014

The History of Knowledge Loss

I was working on the analysis of a huge survey in the 1970s when an earthquake hit the country where the data was kept (on punched cards). The cabinets in which the cards were stored fell over and many of the drawers fell open and spilled out their contents. The storage room was on the ground floor and the floor above was devoted to a chemical laboratory. During the earthquake, many of the bottles of chemicals and solvents broke in the lab, spilling their contents. Of course, the building caught on fire (lots of gas in the labs). The fire department came and put the fires out (eventually) with their hoses. The water not only soaked the punched cards, but it washed the chemicals from the labs above into the cards. Eventually, in the clean up, the cards were bulldozed into the institution's courtyard and burned. Of course, the data was not backup up. Years of work was lost with only the most partial results published.

I remember watching a bitter discussion in another country after another earthquake. It seems that the government computer center had been badly damaged in the quake. The income tax records for the country had been destroyed, and it was discovered that a major portion of them had not been backed up off line.

It is not only through the destruction of libraries that knowledge is destroyed.

I believe that knowledge depreciates. The value of the knowledge of how to make buggy whips is not nearly as valuable now as it was when horses were the advanced transportation technology. But not all knowledge is outdated, even when it is old.

Is your computer backed up in the cloud?

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