Working notes from the Scandinavian Institute for Computational Vandalism

Capta

Etymologically the word data is derived from the Latin dare, meaning ‘to give’. In this sense, data are raw elements that can be abstracted from (given by) phenomena – measured and recorded in various ways. However, in general use, data refer to those elements that are taken; extracted through observations, computations, experiments, and record keeping (Borgman 2007). Technically, then, what we understand as data are actually capta (derived from the Latin capere, meaning ‘to take’); those units of data that have been selected and harvested from the sum of all potential data (Kitchin and Dodge 2011). As Jensen (1950: ix, cited in Becker 1952: 278) states:

it is an unfortunate accident of history that the term datum… rather than captum… should have come to symbolize the unit-phenomenon in science. For science deals, not with ‘that which has been given’ by nature to the scientist, but with ‘that which has been taken’ or selected from nature by the scientist in accordance with his purpose.

The data revolution, Rob Kitchin.

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