Internet databases have become prominent tools for data dissemination. This paper examines the conditions under which data posted online enhance biologists' understanding of organisms, and particularly how knowledge acquired through physical interaction with biological materials is used to assess the evidential value of data found online. I conclude that familiarity with research in vivo and in vitro is crucial to assessing the quality and significance of data visualised in silico; and that studying how data are disseminated and interpreted in the digital age fosters a view of scientific understanding as social and distributed, rather than individual and localized.

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