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Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics

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ESEP 17:37-40 (2017)  -  DOI:

Big data and the emergence of new ‘dissipative’ structures

Daniel Pauly*

Institute for the Ocean and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: This essay suggests that humanity has experienced several instances where lots of information (‘big data’) had to be accommodated, which led to new structures for channeling the subsequent data flows. These structures, such as articulated speech and writing, would be analogs to the ‘dissipative structures’ that emerge in physical systems characterized by strong energy (i.e. heat) gradients. Additional examples from oceanography, meteorology and ecology are given, with some emphasis on the prescient work of Alexander von Humboldt, whose identification of ecological communities was based on the occurrence records of multiple species. His lead was initially not followed up, but it can be now, as millions of occurrence records are available, along with the technology to manipulate them. The structures that will emerge in the process, however, are as unpredictable as dissipative structures in physical systems.

KEY WORDS: Information transfer · Language · Data sharing · Humboldt · Ecology · Occurrence records · Aquamaps

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Cite this article as: Pauly D (2017) Big data and the emergence of new ‘dissipative’ structures. Ethics Sci Environ Polit 17:37-40.

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