Saturday, May 30, 2009

e-biosphere London

I am on my way to sit on panel 6 at the forthcoming e-biosphere meeting in London. Wouter Los produced this abstract for our pannel, where we should talk about how bioinformatics is changing community policies and practices in areas such as data sharing, intellectual property rights, and open access publication.

"The worlds of Biodiversity Knowledge and of Informatics are meeting at exiting interfaces. There are the scientific and technical challenges to get a grip on the complexity of these interfaces. But especially cultural and sociological contraints put a barrier on what is technologically achievable. What works and does not in the effort to get people to share biodiversity data? What are the perspectives of the dataprovider (enablers), and what can we learn from experiences in contributing institutions?
The need and role of data publishing regimes can be discussed in facilitating increased discovery and access to primary biodiversity data. There are socio-political barriers and the question is how to overcome these. Which are the appropriate policies? We still work like twenty years ago and biodiversity informatics is not part of a biodiversity science curriculum. The science structure did not change and adopt neither to global questions nor follow globalization in science, eg Internet and digitalization and with that potential of sharing data. We will stay in the past century when there is no commitment from our institutions to collectively open up biodiversity information.
Biodiversity information and knowledge is structured and would assume a global biodiversity infrastructure created from top down. Such important initiatives were implemented in the last years. However, real innovation comes from a rapidly increasing number of individual scientists that open up their archives and often ingenious bits of software assembled from an even more incredible amount of tools that serve their best interests. They are seeing the advantage to collaborate in small but increasingly fast growing clubs that enhance their scientific process of discovery, and are willing to share their knowledge beginning with semantically enhanced, cross-linked publications. Classic intellectual property rights on information are replaced by other values.
“Community” is important to biodiversity scientists, as it is for people in general. Which are the approaches and tools that provide individual, social rewards when individuals and institutions foster broad knowledge sharing and the public good. What are the roles of cooperation, Darwinian competition, and trust in data sharing? What are the boundaries of a biodiversity research community or of traditional “owners” of information and knowledge? And do we have to consider a balance between the conditions for bottom-up and top-down approaches or just for a single straight forward solution?

So, what are those issues? Has biodiversity informatics really changed something in our communities, or rather enabled to continue with more of the same but in a faster way? Does this BI really change our modus operandi?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Here another twist to the decade *: Is biodiversity missing out again in the current closing of the digital divide?

There are two relevant articles to this issue: one in BBC-online that states
" How ridiculous then that over the last three months, climate change has had 1,382 mentions in British national newspapers.
Yet, during the same period, biodiversity was mentioned just 115 times."

The second one in today's Tagesanzeiger, a Swiss newspaper asking the question "Gibt es in Afrika bald ein Silicon Valley" and continues" Jetzt brauchen Schulen in Timbuktu statt ganzer Bibliotheken nur noch ein paar Secondhand-Computer, um den Lernenden Zugang zum gesammelten Wissen der Welt zu verschaffen."

This refers to Jeff Sachs and his conclusions (see eg in his article "The digital war on poverty, Aug 21, 2008" in the Guardian) that the digital divide is now closing to the very great advantage of the developing world.

"Moreover, market penetration in poor countries is rising sharply. India has around 300 million subscribers, with subscriptions rising by a stunning eight million or more per month. Brazil now has more than 130 million subscribers, and Indonesia was estimated to reach 120 million. In Africa, which contains the world's poorest countries, the market is soaring, with more than 280 million subscribers."

So, we talk about getting a list of names up in the next decade or so, whilst the world around us wants content, such as publications, images, specimen and related data as starting point to find out, what is known about a species, which is a pest species, etc.

There is no discussion that each name should be linked to at least one reference specimen with a state of the domain documentation attached to it. It is clear, that creating visual documentation is not anymore a stumbling block, but it seems rather our vision to take this chance.

There is very little discussion that only names should be published unless the related information is online accessible (eg through Zoobank) thus not only delivering what the world wants from us (good for us, that we have such a huge user base that we do not need to build up) but will save us a huge amount of work to retrofit data.

We had a great chance in 1992 (Rio), but our communities and our leaders didn't had a vision to create this global system needed to make a competitive point that biodiversity is relevant but rather continued go build on their minuscule, obviously obsolete fiefdoms.

We should not let slip what Jeff Sachs observes, and end up in the next decade with the above mentioned dismal little attention observed by Gardiner - the vision to build a list of names will not do the job, nor will we get there without additional, so far non-existent support.

* This is a thought regarding an argument David Patterson stated in the Taxaxcom list serve on May 12.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tja, why is biodiversity lost?

"How ridiculous then that over the last three months, climate change has had 1,382 mentions in British national newspapers.

Yet, during the same period, biodiversity was mentioned just 115 times."

Barry Gardiner (BBC-news, May 7, 2009)