Data and Information
A reader suggests addressing “the difference between data and information.”
Both information and data are types of knowledge, a concept for which English has numerous words. The various words are used in different ways, according to context, but here’s an effort to differentiate some of them.
information – “knowledge obtained from investigation or communication.” Detectives and journalists gather information. Just the facts, Ma’m.
data [dā’tə, dăt’ə, dä’tə] – “reliable information based on observation and record-keeping.” Scientists, marketing specialists, and government agencies gather data. For a discussion of datum and data, see this DWT post on Latin plurals.
fact – “something known to be true,” or “something that can be proved to be true.”
knowledge – “the condition of knowing.” Knowledge is the whole package of what we have learned from the experience of living. It may or may not be factual. To my knowledge, the world is flat.
Learning and erudition both indicate knowledge obtained from academic inquiry. An English professor who knows the language and literature of English and can also read Latin and a couple of modern languages can be said to have learning. The professor is learned [lûr’nĭd]. If the professor can also read Hebrew and ancient Greek and is well-read in several other academic disciplines, the word erudition [ĕr’yə-dĭsh’ən, ĕr’ə-] applies. A person so steeped in learning is erudite [ĕr’yə-dīt’, ĕr’ə-]. While it’s ok for a professor to be erudite, it’s not such a good thing for a poet. Many of T. S. Eliot’s poems are so erudite as to be pedantic. The general reader needs explanatory notes to understand them.
Scholarship is often used to indicate all the learning, data, and informed opinion that exists in a certain area of study. Ex. Civil War scholarship, George Washington scholarship, motion picture scholarship.
Lore is specialized knowledge above and beyond what most people know about a subject. Ex. movie lore, sports lore, computer lore. The word often suggests arcane learning. Ex. Gandalf is steeped in magical lore.
Science is systematized knowledge Ex. the science of light, the science of photosynthesis.
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