Knowledge of information handling and concepts is of great importance to research workers and students in engineering, the natural sciences and medicine. The acquisition of information plays a vital role in the innovative process. Firstly, it is important not to repeat things that have already been done and, secondly, information can act as a catalyst or a starting-point for new ideas. Where do ideas for invention and innovation come from? How can you obtain relevant information? There is a vast amount of information available today, and this makes it extremely important to learn how to search for information in an effective and rational way. With this in mind, we will consider the meaning of the terms data, information and knowledge. These are often used as synonyms, even though they represent different things. We will then go on to study the growth of information and how we can use modern technology in the handling of information.
The term information is given different meanings in different contexts. Information can also have a deceptive double meaning, since it represents both something that decreases the receiver's uncertainty and something that increases the receiver's knowledge. In the former case, this is a matter of a relatively simple procedure such as gathering information from a timetable etc., but in the latter, it means the interpretation of data and this is in itself a complex mental process. The data is put into a relevant frame of reference. Analogous to the data definition given above, information can be described as "potential knowledge".
How should one define knowledge? There are different types of knowledge, such as everyday knowledge, professional knowledge, scientific knowledge and aesthetic knowledge. Scientific knowledge has several characteristics: it can be reproduced, it can be formulated in words, formulas or laws, and it can be systematically organised. In the field of technology, scientific and technological knowledge is used to solve problems. One of the characteristic effects of modern society is the greater need for knowledge. Knowledge is just as important as raw materials and energy to the growth of the economy.
In order to be able to make efficient and rational use of the vast amount of scientific and technological information available, it is necessary to understand the pattern and time-scale of scholarly communication.
If you give a man a fish,Old Chinese Proverb
He will have a meal.
If you teach him how to fish,
He will be fed for life.
Fig. 2. The total number of new scientific journals and abstract journals, seen as a function of time. (Price, D.J. de Solla, Little Science, Big Science, New York, 1963).
Since the end of the 1960s, computers have been used for the storage of large databases - library catalogues and literature references. The storage of information has now become both simpler and cheaper. Smaller and less expensive computers allow distributed computer power (personal computers and work-stations). This makes it easier for researchers to carry out computer-based information searching themselves. Optical storagemedia facilitate the storage of huge amounts of text, pictures, sound and data at a low cost. The new optical memories - such as digitaloptical discs and CD-ROM - function as distributed memories for databases, encyclopaedias, books etc. This leads to local systems for information handling. The production of documents and publishing are greatly affected by the use of word processors, the transmission of information in a digital form - such as via electronic mail (e-mail) and distribution by means of optical media. Full-text document retrieval - a task that grows more difficult with the continuing growth of published information - is made easier by the use of the academic networks, facsimile equipment and satellite communication.
Information is nowadays available in a number of different forms: on paper, microfiche or microfilm, stored on magnetic media, or as a CD-ROM product or video disc. Other forms of media are the video tape, slides and recordings of music in various forms and multimedia presentations. These developments within the field of information technology have led to a considerable increase in complexity, making it harder to choose suitable strategies for information handling. For that reason, it is very important to learn how to make the right choice among all of the alternatives, thus ensuring maximum efficiency and saving both time and money (Fjällbrant, 1991).