Sunday, October 7, 2012

Open science and "Encyclopedia of Life" - competition for projects

As we all know, our research field (ecology and evolutionary biology) are becoming increasing data-driven and to an increasing extent we are also using data collected by "others" from various internet sources. One such example is our recent paper in Ecology, where we used GBIF-data from thousands of species occurrence records, including from the Swedish source "Artportalen" ("The Species Portal") to model  and understand the environmental factors behind northern range limits in two Fennoscandian demoiselle species (the genus Calopteryx)

Increasingly, evolutionary biologists interested in organismal biology and phenotypic evolution will use phenotypic data from sources like DRYAD, as has already been used for a long time for molecular data (DNA-sequences), where GenBank is now a common source of information when constructing phylogenies for comparative purposes. Thus, researchers will not only rely on data they have collected themselves (which is often expensive and it is logistically impossible to gather more than a limited amount of data in short time), but can to an increasing extent also use data from public open databases such as GBIF.

Now, another such initiative - Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) - announces a competition for project proposals (deadline November 15). One can propose data-driven projects - a "wish list" - of what kind of data one wants and in what form, and the "best" projects will be realized. This might be an opportunity for someone in our lab (Lesley?), provided that we can come up with a good project proposal to enter this competition. Think about it at least  until November 15.  

Odonates would be an example of a group where distribution data collected from amateur naturalists should ideally be compiled and become available for research projects through open databases. Unfortunately, the odonate research community is small, full of rivalry and have an unfortunate tradition of publishing in low-impact journals. Some odonate researchers and self-appointed experts are also extremely territorial about their collected occurrence data. This type of territoriality certainly hinders scientific progress and the establishment of odonates as respectable model organisms in ecology and evolutionary biology. Science should be characterized by openness and data-sharing - not by rivalry. 

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