Blakeslee, Sandra. "Lost on Earth: Wealth of Data Found in Space," New York Times, 20

 

Blakeslee, Sandra. "Lost on Earth: Wealth of Data Found in Space," New York Times, 20
March 1990, pp. C1, C13.

Here is yet another example of Big Science mechanistically and carelessly gathering data without
regard for its eventual analysis. This is an error of the ilk of mindless number crunching. The
radio telescope generates tons of printouts but makes nothing of these data because the machines
cannot make anything of data. That takes a mind.

In our years in space, on missions to the moon and to Mars, we collected all kinds of data and
then ended up with no way of analyzing them. Thus, for example, a program in which scads of
records were kept was discontinued; now no one is around the do the analysis. But the problem is
worse than merely discontinued programs: data grabbing is part of the mind-set of those who are
"going out there." So, on a mission to the planets, or to the moon, project directors will grab
everything they can lest they miss something important, without the slightest idea of how these
data will ever be analyzed. Furthermore, old data, gathered on outdated machinery can, in many
cases, no longer be processed: the machinery is obsolete and no one knows how to use the data.
Quite simply, no one is able to cope with the flood of data already available.

The numbers are revealing: government now has 1.2 million tapes in storage on 260 scientific
missions. There are, of course, striking materials there: clear images of the dark side of the moon,
and Martian landscape shots of wonderful quality. One must wonder what else, but we have no
way of finding out. And, of course, the problem of continuing storage, or getting off tapes and
going to CDs, is a problem of money. Having grabbed the data, we must now do something with
it. As a rule of thumb, the time of analysis is triple the time required for generation. That gives
one pause about the wisdom of amassing this sort of material.