Today I’m posting a piece I wrote for the latest NZ Entomological Society Newsletter on my collaboration with Science Learning Hub.
New Zealand taxpayers should have access to the research they fund.
This is a good thing. The private sector lacks an incentive to fund research which will broadly benefit society. Taxpayer-funded research fills this niche by contributing to our economic prosperity, living standards, and environment.
But in order for research to have the greatest possible impact it needs to reach everyone who may want to use it: curious citizens, educators, journalists, NGOs and charities, professional organisations, entrepreneurs, volunteers, and local officials.
So why does everyone hit a paywall when they go looking for the results?
Update: This post is published on SciBlogs.co.nz here.
Studies on insect declines published over the last few years have thrown up some scary headlines. “The insect apocalypse is here” proclaims the New York Times, warning the pace of insect declines could spell catastrophe within decades.
It’s a grim picture, but how accurate is it?
Update: A condensed version of this post is published on Newsroom.co.nz here.
We may be alone. Our planet could be the only place in the universe where, over billions of years, matter became aware of itself. Despite the dazzling variety of life on Earth, all living things are united by the genetic material inside our cells–our DNA. These blueprints trace their own genealogy through all living species to converge at a single point in the ancient past. How do we make sense of the cellular machinery inside a single-celled bacteria, the cooperation within a colony of fungus-farming ants, and the camouflage abilities of shape-shifting squid? Perhaps a more pragmatic question: how do we ensure the survival of these plants, animals, fungi, and microbes on which our own survival depends?
We are only able to catalogue, classify, and understand living things on our planet because of the scientific discipline called taxonomy. Taxonomy is both the foundation of biology, and one of the most important collective achievements of biologists. And yet the funding, resources, jobs and prestige associated with this work have slowly eroded, so today we can see the bones underneath. Taxonomy is important, so we need to understand the challenges it faces before we me might nurse it back to health.
At it’s most simple, ‘open access’ is the idea that anyone should be able to read and reuse scholarly works free of charge.
The open access debate is sometimes framed as an all-or-nothing, take it or leave it kind of deal. But those in favour of OA are not necessarily in favour of forking out huge APC’s to OA or Hybrid publishers. Likewise, those with concerns about OA are not necessarily happy with big publishers making massive profit margins by paywalling taxpayer-funded research.
But rather than arguing for one business model or another (a task I’m vastly under-qualified to do), I simply want to remind researchers that in the mean time, we can make all of our work openly accessible entirely for free (for both authors and readers), with minimal effort, all while publishing in whatever journal we want.
Ever seen a weird creature and wanted to know more about it?
iNaturalist is a citizen science project and online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe. The iNaturalist platform is supported by the California Academy of Sciences based in San Francisco. New Zealand has its own version of the iNaturalist platform called iNaturalist NZ — Mātaki Taiao. Our local version is run by the New Zealand Bio-Recording Network (NZBRN), a charitable trust led by a team of NZ ecologists and biodiversity IT professionals.
Our local version provides a Kiwi window into iNaturalist that shows just the New Zealand observations. That way your fantails and totara observations don’t get lost in a flood of squirrels and bald eagles!
You can upload photos of any organism from the mobile app (or from your digital camera onto the website) and you’ll be connected with experts who can help to identify what you’ve seen.
Heres a quick overview of how to use iNaturalist.
Yes, we have native wasps in New Zealand!
Unfortunately we also have a handful of introduced social wasps. The introduced wasps prey on native invertebrates and create a nuisance (especially for people who are allergic to their stings). But our native wasps do not live together in colonies and they do not sting. They are parasitoid wasps: a very diverse and important group, and we are just beginning to unravel the complex relationships they have with other species here in New Zealand.
During my masters research I caught 61 species of parasitoid wasps from the group I was interested in (the Ichneumonidae). Fifty-six of these species are represented here. You’ll notice most are given a ‘first name’ and then ‘sp.#’ – This means we know the first name (the genus), and we know it is a species, but it is not yet described as a species. Most of our invertebrates are like this because there are so many species and so few people to describe and name them.
To wrap up this series I spoke to Dr Jon Tennant. Jon is a palaeontologist, independent researcher, and passionate advocate for open scholarship. Jon completed his PhD thesis in January 2017 at Imperial College London (and made it available under a CC-BY license on figshare). Jon has contributed research on peer review and open access; founded a palaeontology pre-print server; founded a MOOC on open science; communicated huge amounts of science as a freelance writer; and much more.