TERN active in ESA’s first symposium on open data in ecology

For the first time, the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) conference included a symposium addressing the challenges and opportunities surrounding the open data revolution thanks to the organisers, Professor Glenda Wardle at The University of Sydney and Dr Anita Smyth at The University of Adelaide, who are also members of TERN and Australia’s Ecosystem Science Council.

While ecosystem data sharing may be a challenging topic at an ecological conference as field studies often involve considerable personal commitment on behalf of the investigators, the session proved very popular and exceeded the organisers expectations.

Participants heard from a range of speakers at universities, TERN, the Atlas of Living Australia and environmental departments of both Commonwealth and State governments. Together, the thought provoking talks covered both soft (licencing and policies) and hard (repositories and workflow software) infrastructure.

These talks set the scene for the following moderated panel discussion where a diverse range of viewpoints were put forward and debated by those present. The panellists included Professor Andy Lowe (The University of Adelaide and TERN Associate Science Director), Professor Glenda Wardle, Dr Daniel Falster (Macquarie University and winner of the ESA’s Next Generation Ecologist Award), Mr Lee Belbin (Altas of Living Australia) and Mr Craig Walker (TERN Eco-informatics).

Panelists (L-R): Professor Glenda Wardle, Mr Lee Belbin, Mr Craig Walker, Professor Andy Lowe, Dr Daniel Falster

It was clear that many participants recognised the value of open data and felt that the discipline was already embracing the notion of open science but many issues were raised about open data scientific practices indicating that there is still work to do to allay valid concerns.  Of particular note was the protection of intellectual property and fair attribution as well as concurrent fears associated with misuse.

On a more pragmatic level, many identified the workload necessary to prepare data for publication as a barrier given that these activities are generally not sponsored in most grants.  Participants agreed that while these concerns could be considered roadblocks by many, the challenges were not insurmountable especially when data publications become another metric in career achievements.  In particular, many saw the newly formed Ecosystem Science Council as having a significant role to play in this space.  Abstracts for the talks are available online for first and second sessions.

Published in TERN newsletter April 2016

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