Why do journals insist that data ‘are’?

Why do journals insist that data 'are'?.


About Will

Professor of Construction Management and Economics, University of Reading, UK. Editor-in-Chief, Construction Management and Economics (1992-2016). Programme Director, MSc Construction Management. School Director of Postgraduate Teaching Programmes.
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4 Responses to Why do journals insist that data ‘are’?

  1. janbro says:

    Unfortunately, the singuar (datum) is still in use in English, although infrequently. I believe that astronomers should stick to their stars. The rest of us could do worse than respect the “data are” convention.

    • Will says:

      Jan, even more unfortunately, the plural of datum, as used by surveyors for example, is datums, not data. This is an insubstantial “rule” that does not fit with common usage. Or are you also of the opinion that we should use agendum for an item on the agenda for a meeting? Anyway, although the word datum is still in use in English, is it ever actually used in scientific writing of any kind as a singular form of data? In those journals where the convention is “data are”, do you also see the word datum, or do they talk about a data point? I think it is is time we acknowledged that it is a misconception, if not an affectation, to insist on data being strictly plural.

      • janbro says:

        Hm. Found 16 occurrences of “datum” in CME, a reputable scientific journal. Must be analysed, but we’re too busy writing an application for a(!) Strategic Research Agenda. Euclid is the prime suspect for sneaking “data” on us, what with his treatise on – Data (Gk Dedoména). No point in fighting, Roman poetry could be a model of peacefulness: when Catullus and Propertius use “data”, they refer to lovers’ gifts.

  2. Will says:

    Jan, yes, as an Editor, I never claimed to be perfectly consistent, but to develop and progress over time. I checked some of those instances of datum in CM&E and some indeed are the surveyors’ datums, with a plural of datums. As for your Roman poets, of course that makes a great deal of sense, since the Latin word from which we derive data is the verb, to give (apparently, the Romans had no concept like the modern notion of “data” – which is a good reason for us to deal with it as an English mass-noun, like information, rather than as a traditional Latin word).

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