Data are the heart and soul of science, as well as the backbone, the skeleton, and a wide assortment of vital organs and appendages. The ability of computers to process data quickly has been an important factor contributing to the increase in scientific productivity over the last few years.

But "processing" data isn't as easy as it sounds. Many scientists, when presented with a new microcomputer, naively believe that they simply will be able to put all their data into the machine and come up with an analysis -- akin to unscrewing the lid of a blender, pouring in ingredients, and flipping the switch to make a milkshake. The reality is a little bit different. Computers require data entry, by keyboard or direct acquisition through analog/digital (A/D) data acquisition devices, and then specialized software capable of conducting the necessary types of data manipulation and analysis.

Historically, data were collected by...

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