Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Citizien Scientists: A Positive View

Volunteers play a vital role in ensuring that a range of valuable long-term datasets continue to survive, a team of scientists will say. [BBC online, March 15]

I am critical against the trend to engulf increasingly citizen scientists in projects and tasks traditionally scientists can not do anymore, or simple don't have the resources. A very typical example is the effort by GBIF or EOL to enlisten volunteers to help to create content (data) for there services.

It is not so much the notion that they there are not many very skillful and dedicated people out there. It is more two elements that concern me. To know, whether something is relevant or not that needs to understand the topic in a wider sense, and the reliability of the data generation in terms of commitment. A commitment that is purely driven by interest and makes these volunteers very dedicated, but at the same time certain tasks are not being done, because they are less attractive or at times that are not convenient.
This is especially of concern for long term monitoring studies, such as birders do. For collaborations, these needs its own skills to manage a crowd that you can not promise a financial reward but motivation.

The story reported in BBC and mainly reflects the work done by Earthwatch makes just the opposite point, that many of the long term observation studies only work because of the volunteers.

This is a very positive note, similar to the fact that very many taxonomists are amateurs and produce a huge wealth of knowledge.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The African Wolf: no data accessible

The discovery that there is a wolf and not a jackal in Africa has recently been widely published in the news. This is based on a publication in PLoSOne by Rueness et al. There has been some older morphological evidence for the long kept secret that, despite the saying that there is no wolf in Africa, and there was always the insight from egyptian zoologist that there is a wolf population in Fayoum, that is distinct from the jackals in other places. Furthermore, the jackals also seeemed to be small relative to the rest of the population, especially those from the Qattara depression.

When I read through the article by Rueness et al., it was striking that it is impossible to find what specimens they used and from they originate. The citation leads to the master thesis by Nassef (Nassef M (2003) The Ecology and Evolution of the golden jackal (Canis aureus) Investigating a cryptid species. Master thesis. The university of Leeds.), where I can not get any further. I fist search on Google doesn't reveal the whereabout of Nassef, so I will contact the authors.

I think it is not a good policy for both PLoS-One and the authors to keep back all the observation data in a case that is clearly very important and far reaching. It is a very small data set, and I wonder, how well the samples kept in Egypt have been used to figure out that there might actually a jackal AND a wolf species living close to each other.

ICZN and Open Access, or ICZN's self-inflicted no-role

This is probably the most unbelievable discussion on a thematic list serve I have come across for a long time:

I suspect you are both missing the point here. Please read the abstract once again:

unfortunately, I don't have access to the whole article, only the abstract (can anyone send me the PDF, please?), but, as I understand it:

Cyclodina aenea Girard, 1857 has been found to be a junior subjective synonym of Tiliqua ornata Gray, 1843, but *both names* are in current usage (as Oligosoma aenea and O. ornata, respectively). What the authors want is to retain the usage of *both names*. Suppression of Tiliqua ornata Gray, 1843 is not going to help! The *only way* is to designate a neotype for Tiliqua ornata Gray, 1843 ...

Stephen [ICZN-list listserve, Mon 3/14/2011 11:41PM]

Here is the ICZN who faces an uphill battle to loose nomenclatorial control over the scientific names of animals, who is unable to provide lists of available names so they could offer a service to judge whether a name has already been used, and who wants to sort out errors in the naming of species. And here are the way discussions are led on their list serve, because their cases and opinions are not open access.

One of the main reasons why ICZN can not produce a list of available names is copyright. If there is no copyright for taxonomic material we could provide at least today instant access to all the nomenclatorial acts that are currently published. There are many barriers in a world where such acts are published in over 1,200 journals and books annually, but those are decreasing with the change from print only to print/electronic publishing, and especially those from non-western countries becoming open access. This process could even go faster, if the Biodiversity Heritage Library wouldn't have to run against to copyright wall.

But here is the ICZN that uses copyright and bars even those seriously interested but not attached to an institution with a subsription from reading their material. This policy is a sign far beyond nomenclature that all the discussions we lead about open access, not to speak developing technology to provide machines access to harvest its content automatically (so for example Zoobank could become more efficiently if it ever sees the light of the day), is null and void, because we believe in copyright.

Thorpe's comment is the best example how detrimental such a policy is to the discussion of internal affairs, but to the enforcement of open access. But luckily, there is an increasing move to provide and request open access from our funding bodies, so that ICZN with its publishing policies is once again maneuvered into the offside.

I wonder why ICZN can afford to add to the their loosing battle of controlling names in the electronic world another policy to play at the no role in the important nomenclatorial control of scientific names. But may be better, why it takes so long to realize what that open access is the only way out of the dark.

I am sure the reason for this business policy is that those revenues from the sale of the Bulletin is needed. If this barrier of non-access is detrimental to ICZN, I wonder whether this is the right business model to adhere to. What is clear though, is that a no-access policy is not very attractive for any funding agency.

P.S. If you are interested in reading the Bulletin, you can purchase it here

Monday, March 07, 2011

Politics Meets Conservation at Ramsar Wetland Memorial Conference

UK charge d’affaires, Swedish ambassador impolite. The British charge d’affaires and the Swedish ambassador participating in the world forum on wetland in Tehran did not stand up upon the arrival of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Everyone stood up as a sign of politeness when the president entered the hall except the British charge d’affaires and the Swedish ambassador. "(Shargh, March 7, 2011)
This happened at the Global Forum on Wetlands for the Future on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in Teheran, March 5-6, 2011.

There is another side of the story from insiders. When the president arrived, everybody got up, including the ambassador (not chargé d'affaires) of Britain and Sweden as was protocol. After the president moved to the lecture desk, everybody sat down. However when he left his position, most people tended to stand up and then sit down again, although not the two ambassadors who wondered why everybody was standing and sitting again at regular intervals. Since the speaker wasn't the biggest in stature, the explanation of this up and down movement was just because people wanted to see him.

Switzerland, the host country of the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, was not involved. The Swiss government decided not even to send a delegation or representative to this celebration.

From the sidelines, I wonder about the very passive attitude regarding biodiversity conservation of the Swiss government. Though there was some movement from within the Swiss science community to host the secretariat of the IPBES in Switzerland, which would complement not only Swiss science activities but profit from synergies with other similar organizations in and around Geneva, the respective federal agency took a very passive stand. This follows the absence of Switzerland in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), where a membership so far has been considered too costly. Switzerland is a center of global biodiversity when the importance of its scientific collections are considered, and should be a leader in opening up this extremely valuable resource.