A fruitful two days seminar

Written by Benjamin Cretois, Lasse F Eriksen and Wouter Koch – PhD students at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

There is a rapidly increasing awareness of the importance of ecological data. With the climate crisis and global biodiversity loss as a background for much of today’s ecological research, we cannot afford wasting any resources in the search for more knowledge. Thus, as scientists we have to be aware of not only the need for collecting data, but also how we make the most of the data we collect. A part of this is making data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR). This was highlighted during the 2 days Living Norway seminar at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) last week, where a group of ca. 70 participants met to discuss the challenges, opportunities and infrastructure needed to improve the ways data is shared within the scientific community.  

What is FAIR and how to develop this paradigm within the scientific community, a recurrent theme of this seminar

First day was dedicated to introducing the participants to the Open Science philosophy, emphasizing that a FAIR management of data is a step forward to this scientific ideal. Finding and formatting data is a difficult and time consuming step in research as it can take up 79% of the researcher’s time (Data Science report 2016, CrowdFlower). It is critical that scientists agree on standards for data and metadata as it would facilitate its traceability and use.

Finding data can be difficult and time consuming for a scientist

This way of managing data is also intended to render data more relevant and readable for environmental policy and management structures as Ingunn Limstrand from the Norwegian Environment Agency highlighted this in particular. This would facilitate policy decisions and trust between policy makers and scientists. Even though implementing the Open Science ideal is challenging, big data platforms such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) are facilitating the process as they pay attention to make their data FAIR.

The second day was rich in ideas and discussion but also disagreements as two workshops took place. The first workshop stressed the importance of data that are not digitized but bear a great value as they carry valuable temporal information. These are called legacy data and can take the form of museum collection samples, paper notes or old undocumented spread sheets. The afternoon workshop aimed to settle an important question: How could and should Open Science be implemented in biodiversity education? Participants agreed that the way to do Open Science and more generally good data management, should be taught as soon as possible in the University curriculum.

Availability of data will enable scientists to dedicate more resources to seek results and less time to perform data collection, thus increase the efficiency in all fields, not the least climate and biodiversity research. In that sense, as Einar Hjorthol from the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre reminded us in the introductory talk, this seminar is a part of the work of saving the planet.