A Joint Heritage: Where Science and Culture Meet
The Natural Sciences and the Arts are often perceived as two contrasting strands of the human environment: the factual versus the fanciful, the technological versus the intangible. However, in the realm of historic scientific observations, the two disciplines share more than is usually credited. Historic observations constitute an invaluable resource for understanding the natural world, but their management requires not only scientific acumen but also considerable assistance from archivists, librarians, the general public and even the media.
Historic data are fundamental for measuring change. Most changes - in the atmosphere, the land and the oceans, and in what lives and grows there - are gradual, so data that span many decades are required to inform models adequately. But though the world is rich in such historic data, is it poor in its ability to access them. Researchers need their data in digital form, but most historic data are non-digital so they are effectively unuseable, and it is our basic scientific knowledge which suffers. Born-digital data are at most only 20-30 years old; without access to older data, forecasts of change must involve some guesswork, and we cannot afford to guess when so much is at stake. Historic data are also virgin sources for cultural research: how observations were made and stored, by whom, their context, precision, and technical limitations.
We are conducting a Panel Discussion on this topic, organized and introduced by the CODATA Task Group, "Data At Risk" (which also has UNESCO's support). It will address cultural challenges in engaging help from the public, and include up to 5 10-minute contributions describing European-based programmes to recover and digitize non-digital data. It will conclude with a general discussion of ways to expand the schemes, emphasising both efficiency and breadth of impact.