[tdwg-content] bioRxiv preprint: To increase trust, change the social design behind aggregated biodiversity data

Nico Franz nico.franz at asu.edu
Fri Jun 30 03:47:48 UTC 2017

Dear TDWG: Bit of a different, social angle here on the biodiversity
aggregation/trust issue. Hopefully of interest to some. (and apologies for
cross posting) Cheers, Nico



Growing concerns about the quality of aggregated biodiversity data are
lowering trust in large-scale data networks. Aggregators frequently respond
to quality concerns by recommending that biologists work with original data
providers to correct errors "at the source". We show that this strategy
falls systematically short of a full diagnosis of the underlying causes of
distrust. In particular, trust in an aggregator is not just a feature of
the data signal quality provided by the aggregator, but also a consequence
of the social design of the aggregation process and the resulting power
balance between data contributors and aggregators. The latter have created
an accountability gap by downplaying the authorship and significance of the
taxonomic hierarchies - frequently called "backbones" - they generate, and
which are in effect novel classification theories that operate at the core
of data-structuring process. The Darwin Core standard for sharing
occurrence records plays an under-appreciated role in maintaining the
accountability gap, because this standard lacks the syntactic structure
needed to preserve the taxonomic coherence of data packages submitted for
aggregation, leading to inferences that no individual source would support.
Since high-quality data packages can mirror competing and conflicting
classifications, i.e., unsettled systematic research, this plurality must
be accommodated in the design of biodiversity data integration. Looking
forward, a key directive is to develop new technical pathways and social
incentives for experts to contribute directly to the validation of
taxonomically coherent data packages as part of a greater, trustworthy
aggregation process.
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