Data

When we think of data we might imagine: a bunch of ones-and-zeros sitting inside of a computer, the stats from our favorite sports team, or the medical records at our local hospital. But what exactly are data? Data are a collection of symbols that describe observations of the world around us. They record facts about the natural world that we live in. These include descriptions of the qualities of things in our world. For example, colors, shapes, and textures. In addition, they include measurements of quantities of things in our world. For example: size, weight, and velocity. Data are represented using symbols. This includes representing qualities of things using words. For example, the color of an apple is red. In addition, this includes representing quantities of things using numbers. For example, the apple has a mass of 100 grams. Imagine we’re feeling sick and we go to see our doctor. Our doctor takes a measurement of our body temperature using a thermometer. The thermometer reads 39°C (which is 102°F for those of us who’ve yet to switch to the metric system) Based on this temperature, it’s clear that we’re running a fever. This temperature value of 39°C is what we refer to as a “datum” (i.e. a single piece of data). The word “data” is actually the plural form of the word “datum”. So when we have more than one “datum”, we have “data”. However, most people now use the term “data” in both the singular and plural form, interchangeably. The term “datum” is now rarely, if ever, used. Data can be used to create information. However, in order to create information, we first need to organize, analyze, and interpret the data.