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Archive for May, 2011

Summertime, open ignorance, and finishing the project

May 25, 2011 7 comments

Hi, all. Thanks for your patience this spring. Sorry we’ve let things lie fallow for so long. Many thanks to everyone for keeping things ticking over while we were AWOL.

Like Andy said in the last post, it’s time to wrestle this thing to the ground and stick a knife through its heart (I may be paraphrasing a bit). Andy, Mike, and I have cleared some protected time in our summer schedules to finish the analyses and write the paper. The next two weeks may be a bit quiet on our end as we all work to get other things tied up and off our desks–and as Andy moves his residence!–but we should be ready to hit it hard by the second week of June.

There is a lot of work to be done, and there are lots of ways to contribute to the paper for everyone who wants to be involved, right now and continuing through the summer. I’ll give some suggestions in a minute. But first, an admission.

We don’t really know what we’re doing here. That’s obvious with the social side of the project, because nothing like this has been attempted before, at least not on this scale or with this degree of openness. But it’s also true on the scientific side. None of us (Andy, Mike, or I) has ever written a paper on this topic. There are some specific analyses that we need for the paper that we’ve never run before. So we are very much learning as we go–this is the open ignorance I alluded to in the title. This isn’t by accident. We could have chosen to do something simpler and less ambitious–perhaps repeat a project that we’d already done before with only the names of the critters changed. But we wanted to learn from the project–from you, the contributors, and alongside you–and to grow as scientists from having participated in it. And we want the final product to be a truly collaborative effort, and not to simply walk everyone through a series of moves that we already know by heart.

And it is working. We have been amazed at the level of enthusiasm and commitment that you have brought to the project, and our only regret is that we have not reciprocated with the sustained level of effort that you, and the project, deserve. So we’re committing ourselves to getting this done, starting now.

How can you contribute? Here are some suggestions:

  • Update the database. New taxa continue to be described, new descriptions of established taxa continue to be published, and older publications continue to become available. So if you have been wanting to do some (more) good old-fashioned ODP gruntwork, there’s still a little time.
  • Suggest relevant references, or read up on the ones that are already suggested. It might be a good idea to gather those references together so they can be made available to anyone who is working on the project. We’ll probably do a post specifically on this in the near future, but there’s no reason not to be pulling things together in the meantime.
  • Look at the outline of the paper, suggest improvements, and–if you are so inclined–start writing those bits that can be written right now. For now, feel free to post chunks in comments or send them to us. Jay Fitzsimmons’s paragraph on citizen science and the ODP is a good model to follow. We’ll definitely be posting more on the actual writing of the paper soon, but, as with boning up on the relevant references, there’s no reason to hold off if this is something you’re interested in working on.
  • Analyze data. Obviously there are limits to what we can do until we really finalize the database once and for all, but this is a good time for exploring the data and for test-driving analyses to be done on the finalized database. We have enough data that overall trends are not likely to change much, so anything that looks interesting now will probably still be interesting in the final version.
  • Work on a time-calibrated phylogeny for the dataset. This is a big one, again probably deserving of a post of its own. We’ll also need to update the “master tree” to include the most current phylogenetic trees for the included taxa. If you’re into trees, timelines, or both, the mothership is calling you home.
  • Figure out how to do disparity analyses. This is one of those things that we project organizers have never done before. We’re reading up on it right now, but if you know anything about it, let us know. Even when we get up to speed, we’ll still need your input. Like Project Mayhem, you can determine your own level of involvement.
  • Other stuff? The project is probably at its maximum breadth in terms of types of work to be done. Up until now we’ve focused mainly on building the database and outlining where we want to go, and in a few weeks we’ll have the database finalized and our efforts will narrow as we focus on running the analyses and writing the paper. So whether you’re brand new and want to get involved for the first time, or an old hand who wants to do something different, there is something around here that needs doing. Have a look at the tasks list, go back through the last few posts, and see what appeals to you. If in doubt, give us a shout.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more posts very soon. But don’t just stay tuned–keep posting ideas, data, references, bits of text, and whatever else you want to contribute. We’ll do likewise.

Categories: Housekeeping, To-Do List
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