This page is a broad overview of things that I am interested in, and how the various projects that I am involved with fit together. The main theme is how we use technologies such as the internet to change the way that we collect, analyse and communicate scientific data and ideas. Some of the ideas here have a direct link to this work, others form part of the broader landscape that people in this field should at least be aware of, if not actively involved in.
Born Digital - data collection to publication
The biodiversity informatics landscape is maturing around a number of key ideas and projects - and there are an increasing number of projects that are both supported by the community and actively used. Towards the end of the ViBRANT project we had a number of solid concepts, and corresponding test cases, but we realised the needs for an end-to-end project that covered everything from data collection through to publiction. The In Situ Acoustic Monitoring of Biodiversity project was born. The aim of the project is to automate the collection of occurrence data for the grasshopper Conocephalus discolor but listening for the songs of the males. The data are fed directly to a Scratchpad which acts as a single platform for the data life cycle (collection, curation, use, publication and, potentially, re-use).
Rapid vs perfect
Of course, even if we can make our data and publications born digital they are likely to be based upon voucher specimens that were still born in the same way that their species has traditionally managed this process. Digitisation for museums is an ongoing process for the foreseeable future and needs to be managed in this way. In almost all institutions the digitisation project does not have an end.
Open Access, Open Licences, Open Internet...
We live in a world where the legal framework surrounding intellectual property and technology is not only too old to be relevant but also too young and naive to be well conceived. When intellectual property issues hit the headlines it is usually part of the ongoing furore around the media conglomerates - however these issues also affect the dissemination, and increasingly the practice, of science. It is important for us to anticipate how this emerging legal framework may fail and not merely how it may work (after all even some scientific publishers are supporting proposed legislation to prop up dying sectors of the entertainment industries). For these reasons those creating and using scientific outputs need to keep abreast of, and participate in, the political landscape that surrounds them.
“Either way, SOPA is like using an Air Force bomber to kill a criminal hiding in a dark alley; it would end up taking out the entire neighborhood, including many innocents, and you might not even hit the right alley.”
For the open ideals of science to continue to flourish we must ensure that other people have access to our outputs. Part of this is a legal issue, where the rise of innovative open access journals and Creative Commons licensing is starting to make waves and part is sociological where projects like Scratchpads provide an easy ‘way in’ for a sometimes cautious community.
The internet is becoming the de facto method for communication and the scientific community has embraced it widely. For this reason an understanding of threats to the open ethos of the internet is essential for those who care about freedom of communication. The internet may be used for illegal activities - but the lasting solution to this is to shut down those activities at the source (server or people) level, not by creating a legal responsibility for the service providers to control what information is accessible. Implementing legislation that restricts access to resources or that reduces an individual's privacy will push people towards technological solutions to reinstate it, and the same technologies that support openness can create ‘dark networks’ where the monitoring of illegal activity is orders of magnitude more difficult.
Science requires the sharing of ideas and the data to support (or reject) them. We must work together with stakeholders internal to our disciplines and also the many more that are external to them so that the public can be informed of what we do and why we do it.