In the second installment of a three-part interview with Mike, Matt, and me, here’s Mike Taylor! Matt will follow tomorrow.
Do you believe you might be setting a trend?
Part of what’s so exciting is that we are in such uncharted territory. We really have no idea whether this particular project [is] setting a trend — it’s nice to think it might be so, but equally this might end up being the one project of its kind. It might crash and burn, or it might spiral out of our control into something really far reaching. Three days in, it’s much too early to make concrete predictions, beyond that we’re certain to learn something. Whatever comes out of this project in the short term, I hope that one of the long-term results is that if other people do start broadly similar large-scale collaborative projects, they’ll be able to learn from our mistakes and do a better job than we’re doing.
And this project is only a tiny part of a much bigger … I wanted to say movement, but it’s nothing as well defined as that. It’s an ill-defined and approximate trend, but generally what’s happening is that the whole way we do science is changing in ways whose ends are hard to foresee. Electronic publishing is no longer exotic, and some prestigious journals have no print edition; open access to online articles is increasingly widespread and journals that don’t do it are looking more and more reactionary; scientific blogging is becoming very serious in places (not least at our own Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week blog, http://svpow.wordpress.com/), with original research sometimes “published” in this way without recourse to journals at all; even the most staid journals are accepting citations of online resources. Generally the trends seem to be towards decentralisation of authority, increasing openness and progressive divorcing of medium from message. The Open Dinosaur Project fits very comfortably into that loose coalition of ideas: we’re trying to democratise science, open up data, blog the process, and make sure that the final publications are freely available to the world.
So whether or not other groups in the future do things that are similar in detail to the ODP, I do think that we are trending inevitably towards the kind of scientific environment in which those KINDS of thing — things in the same SPIRIT as the ODP — are going to proliferate. If we’re a small part of taking the world in that direction, I’ll be happy with that.
Finally, will the contribution be limited to the creation of data registers? Can people contribute in other ways?
Again, we’re feeling our way here. What we know for sure is that volunteers — including those with no academic background — can make a real contribution in aggregating data. For that reason, and also of course because data collection is one of the first phases of a project, that’s what we’re concentrating on now, but we’re certainly open to pushing more work onto our volunteers down the line! In particular, there are lots of different kinds of analyses that can be run on the data, and it’s unlikely that the three of us have the necessary background to do all of them — maybe some of the project contributors can do, I don’t know, principle component analysis or something. We’ll also need people to help organize and format the project’s massive bibliography, as well as track down abbreviations and other crucial (but hard-to-find) pieces of information. Figure preparation, and especially artwork, is another obvious area where we can hope to find and and use the talents of ODP volunteers.