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Spreadsheets have become powerful tools and are used widely nowadays. Relational databases seem to disappear into information systems either just for presenting data or forming the basis of complex systems integrating, for example, business rules. It will be shown that—following their rules—relational databases are able to support research in a very flexible manner. The structure of the underlying data may be very simple (just one table) or more complex (consisting of several related tables often according to normalization rules). In each case, the nonprocedural query to the database can give insights from different perspectives assuming that the underlying data are consistent and the often nontrivial query is formulated correctly. Examples will be given in the context of the evaluation of material flows, demonstrating the importance of data consistency, the advantages of the relational data model (and its limitations), and the power that is given by a modern, flexible interface which frees the scientist from explicitly formulating complex queries which are then prone to error. Finally it will be discussed why the spreadsheet is nevertheless used so often when a database is more appropriate.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Research Centre Jülich, Systems Analysis and Technology Evaluation, Jülich, Germany

Publication date: 2004-10-01

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