Journal archives for November 2015

November 06, 2015

Are we helping answer questions that haven't been asked?

Since I manage National Geographic's Great Nature Project, I've made a point of keeping an eye on other similar projects and communities. (If you want to see all of the other projects I've come across, it's the best use I've found for Pinterest. :-) One of the ones I find most interesting is Australia's BowerBird. Every Friday, Bower Bird's manager Ken Walker (a curator of entomology) sends out the BowerBird Bugle. It's low-tech (download a pdf) but always interesting and I think he's doing a great job encouraging and advocating for the growing community.

Two weeks ago Ken told a story the drives home the value of being able to identify and name things in order to a) know whether or not you have a problem and b) how to solve it. He uses termites as an example and I'll let you read it yourself here (pdf).

Last week he said, " I am always popping into the 3 million insect collection to match a photo with a pinned specimen and adding a name to an image. Someone had to collect the museum specimen, label it and probably someone else identified it – and we may have had the specimen in the collection for 50 or 100 years. As I said last week, the biggest problem for taxonomy and collections is that we answer questions before the questions have been asked." (emphasis mine)

Is this the best way to describe what we're doing, too?

The observations added to iNaturalist really are analogous to natural history collections. Sometimes they are collected with a specific purpose and question in mind, but often they are a result of being in the right place at the right time. And beyond any original question, the standardized, shared data associated with records of biodiversity allow for people to answer previously unimaginable questions at previously unimaginable scales.

We don't know right now exactly how our observations might be used in the future, but we want to make sure they are as useful as possible. What do you think?

Posted on November 06, 2015 05:27 PM by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 14 comments | Leave a comment