The US National Science Foundation describes digital data as both the products of research and, increasingly, the starting point for new research. In the digital environment, it is possible for researchers to re-purpose data – to use them in innovative ways and combinations not envisioned by those who created them. It is also common for researchers to use data from one study to build on and enhance the findings of previous research; and to undertake longitudinal studies that compare data from repeated observations of the same items over long periods of time — often many decades 1.
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1 “Community-based Data Interoperability Networks”. 2009. National Science Foundation. http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2007/nsf07565/nsf07565.htm