On the Role of Open Science in Charting Biodiversity

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A striking example of the impact of open access on the usage of scientific publications. Around 2000 antbase.org, co-funded by the Atherton-Seidal Foundation at the Smithsonian Institution provided open access to the entire ant taxonomic literature. Within a very short time, this resource has been used world wide. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.1343376

Following discussions on Taxacom list server on the value on Open Science, here some points to consider.

The situation has changed regarding open access and open science. The EU fully requires open access to anything they fund. No funds are awarded to any institution that will not accept a commitment to open access. Many of our institutions signed up the Bouchout Declaration on Open Biodiversity Knowledge Management and open access is for example a central part of the development of DiSSCo – the Distributed System of Scientific Collections in Europe.

Many of our science agencies signed up on DORA, the San Francisco declaration on alternative metrics, and increasingly even disregard citation indexes to evaluate scientists and proposals.

It is very obvious that open access opens an entire new door to the way we do science. It saves an enormous amount of time to access cited works, literature to specimens. It enables large studies that have not been possible before, and it enables reproducing research.

It improves our science, because many eyes have suddenly access to the data, data can be analyzed in context, including links to any cited material, that has not been possible until now.

In fact, it should be our ambition and goal that any publication is accessible through PubMed Central, BHL, BLR, taxonomy at GBIF or a similar global infrastructure, and the data therein is citable, such as figures, taxonomic treatments or materials cited.

This data can and is reused, see e.g. the last published EJT: It is not only accessible as PDF, but in various formats in the Biodiversity Literature Repository, in TreatmentBank or GBIF. The types are accessible, images are accessible to anybody anywhere at any time in the world. The scientists contribution is immediately accessible through services like the Bloodhound tracker, or it can be reused in knowledge systems like openbiodiv or Wikidata. And all the access points lead always back to the source publication.

The only stumbling block for most of the literature is that we even don’t know that a new species has been described, even worse, to a large extent we do not know what we know at all. This is a major reason for an utterly out of data catalogue of life, a broken link system from a taxonomic name to the taxonomic treatment, the referenced specimens, sequences, that is the door to the literature better knowledge about the species.

Open science in the digital internet era is a huge benefit to our science. It allows spreading knowledge instantaneously. This is what we want, we need and are obliged to do in the age of drastically disappearing biodiversity.

Open science is an advantage to science. It needs to be underpinned with an adequate infrastructure. It needs publishers that can publish in a semantic enhanced way so that the data is immediately reusable. It needs functional large scale services and projects such as IPNI, Zoobank, Catalogue of Life, Biodiversity Literature Repository, BHL, GBIF, DiSSCo or idigBio or large scale sequencing projects.

Open science is exactly what we need. We want to be able to critically review research results, such as what is at the base of the description of a new species: Which specimens, which characters, what kind of sequence or other data. We want to be able to understand the growth of data related to a taxon by making use of the citations of previous literature. Open science and its tools allow this.

Open science is not a threat or stupid, it makes your work visible, it raises the profile of taxonomy by allowing linking between specimens, sequences, taxonomic names and research results.

Open science will help us to overcome the logjam we have to create a Catalogue of Life with all the automation that is possible, curatorial tools to correct possible errors in the processing. It thus will help us to liberate us out of this incredible awkward situation that we do now know what we know because we have not learned how to publish properly nor deal with the daily increasing number of publication adding the estimated 500 Million pages of literature of biodiversity, that, among others, encompasses the entire catalogue of life.

Funding for open science does not compete with our taxonomic research funds. Rather the opposite, if we can show that what vibrant and relevant field we work in, more money will be diverted for charting and understanding global biodiversity.

For the first time since Linnaeus, we have the chance to be able to build a system that provides access to all the knowledge we have, similar to the Systema Naturae at its time, only this time not a book but perhaps in a mobile app in your hand.

Open science also means collaboration, and this is happening at a grand scale, not least because our community can compete against science projects from other domains. It attracts funding, because we are devoted to open access, innovative, and make our data accessible to anybody anywhere at any time.

Finally, it increases dramatically access from any place where biodiversity disappears the fastest: Any student, scientist or conservationist has access too, not just we in the North.

Together we are now building an incredible infrastructure – an infrastructure that is owned by the scientists, run by scientists for the scientists. An open infrastructure intended to anybody to preserve the worlds biodiversity to create innovations which create wealth and tax income that enables the science foundations or philanthropic funds to spend money on its development. Hopefully we can convince these funders to make a special effort to generating new and recovering existing knowledge about our biodiversity. An infrastructure that allows to document and give credit to each of the scientists contribution to chart the world’s biodiversity.