Linking Data Builds Agency and Empowers the Narrators of Science

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Join David Shorthouse (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) in a webinar presented by the Symbiota Collections of Arthropods Network (SCAN):

"Dataism is an emerging ideology that embraces Big Data. It values, above all else, the free and open flow of information. Our naive acceptance of this shift away from humanism has led directly to a reductionist dogma in academia and in biology in particular. That dogma reads something like this: Organisms are data processing systems; genomics and artificial intelligence are power; life is an algorithm. A human-centric world-view that values emotion, consciousness and a narrative is outdated and obsolete.

Natural history collections have a critical role to play in rejecting this dogma by preserving our humanity above all else. Bionomia was borne from a simple thought experiment - a generalized, fuzzy notion that there is utility in stitching together digital tokens that represent a specimen and its human collector. Real science might be enabled by shining a light on that particular link, just as new knowledge emerges when lights are shone on other links in the grand network of natural history. Geographic places, taxonomic names, specimens, publications, and time are all such linkages in this knowledge graph. But there is clearly more than science at play when linking specimens to people. Anyone with a passing curiosity in genealogy or a desire to honour the memory of their academic advisor or a wish to learn about the champions that contributed to their local natural history museum is struck by something much deeper here than a few shallow clicks on a keyboard. Bionomia is a window, a small chink of light that often reveals the darkness of our colonial past and the pale chauvinism of our academic machinations. And yet, it also affords a new generation of taxonomists and parataxonomists a facile mechanism to illustrate their own expertise and their capacity to collaborate in an international arena. It is fast in large part because of the visionaries and funding devoted to iDigBio, SCAN, GBIF and other regional and international networks and it complements their own traditional publications. Bionomia recently found a platform in social media to share and celebrate the impact Latin American natural historians have had on students of taxonomy. These are the sorts of activities that are possible when we link specimens to collectors. There is demand for more such ways to help people create and share their anecdotes and histories.

While newly emerging ideas and technologies like Digital Extended Specimens are inspirational and will absolutely result in more data flow, more data transactions, more data processing, and new science, let's be mindful as these unfold. Let's remind ourselves and our decision-makers that the narratives in our collections are holistic, human stories imbued with emotion. These are the engines of agency."

A recording of this webinar is available at

Start Date: 
Wednesday, May 05, 2021 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm EDT
Recording policy: 
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