The Notes from Nature team is proud to report reaching the new milestone of 300,000 transcriptions completed! This has been made possible by the generous and committed efforts of nearly 4,000 citizen scientists from around the globe. We look forward to continuing the project and sharing more biological collections with you in the near future. Thank you citizen scientists!
To continue growing and expanding, we are interested in your feedback. What excites you the most from Notes from Nature so far? How would you like to see it evolve? Leave a comment and let us know!
Since our launch several months ago, the Notes from Nature citizen science community has transcribed 250,000 specimen labels! This is an incredible achievement, and shows promise for where this project can go. We’re indebted to the citizen scientists out there who love this work and have taken it upon themselves to contribute to science in this way.
- Over 3,500 citizen scientists from around the globe participating
- Over 8,800 plant specimens completed (completion requires at least three transcriptions to ensure quality through consensus)
- Over 16,000 insect specimens completed (same requirement as plants)
- Over 25 bird ledger pages completed – these are WAY more time intensive, and were only added days ago (same completion requirement as others)
We’ve learned a lot during this period, and are now in the process of figuring out where to go next, and how to involve bigger crowds of citizen scientists and more interesting collections from around the world. Our recent call for new collections has garnered interest from curators across the US and Europe, and we hope more will be in contact soon. It’s a very exciting time.
Thank you for all your support!
Notes from Nature recently surpassed its 200,000th transcription! Given this milestone, it seems like a good opportunity for the Notes from Nature team to do two things: 1) We want to show a bit more where – geographically – we have filled in some data gaps; 2) We want to talk a bit more about the Bigger Picture. Where do these transcriptions go after they get done!? We have talked a lot about the scientific uses of these data, and individual projects, but there is a bigger mission and one the Museum world is grappling with right now — how to simultaneously live in an analog and digital world.
Before we talk more about the Big Push to digitize records and get them mobilized for the good of society, lets do something a bit more close to home. Below is snapshot of an intensity map which shows work done by transcribers state by state. We focus on the United States here simply because we have had good dropdown list for USA states and could therefore easily get this map made without too much muxing. We have gotten have gotten a lot of help from transcribers in other counties and you can see more about that in our previous post. You can explore the map in more detail: click here to see the map . We made this by simply tallying each record with a particular name of a state, and then linking those state names using a service provided by Google called Fusion Tables. California (with 64,346 transcriptions) and Florida (with 21,283) make up a lion share of the transcriptions, but there is a lot of effort in the Southeast and West as well. All things one might expect given the regional foci of CalBug and SERNEC. Surprising, North Dakota has 1,518 transcriptions completed and Minnesota 2,109! Go Upper Midwest!
All this work really does feed into a larger effort that is happening here in the United States and around the world to make museum data available for broad use. This isn’t just for scientists, but also for formal and informal science education and the broader public. Museum specimens are obviously of great value — they even tell us more than the who, what, where, when which serves as a basis for documenting trends in changes in distribution and seasonal and yearly timing events such as emergence from hibernation. Each specimen yields further secrets — whether it is DNA that can be extracted from the tissues, body size and relation to physiology, and so on. They also tell stories about landscapes and peoples in the past, and about our own histories. In this sense, natural history tie into the much larger picture of multiple cultures.
Up until recently, if you wanted to see this vast treasure trove of data, you had to get a special pass to enter the collections, and there under the watchful eyes of curators and collections managers, you could examine specimens. Museums have always been places where visitors are most welcome, but physically moving around specimens, and figuring out which collection had what remained a challenge. While access is critical, museum curators have to balance considerations related to the conservation of these precious objects.
In the last ten years, a revolution is unfolding and museums worldwide are digitizing their collections so that the contents can be discovered, searched, and used more effectively and by more people. This work is very challenging. Many folks involved in this endeavor have lamented that years of databasing and a lot of time and effort invested in building system to publish data and make them available… and still only 2-3% of the total number of records in museums (based on our best estimates) are digitally discoverable. We have to hope there is a way to make this whole process more efficient.
So at some point, CalBug and SERNEC will take the hard work done by transcribers and make those digital records available to everyone. You can see some of the progress that has already happened by checking out projects such as VertNet, GBIF, Map of Life and iDigBio. One of the goals of these projects is to bring together data from various sources in order to create a “one stop shop” for the discovery of biodiversity information.
In sum, the bigger story is that we are witnessing a revolution in how museums make their resources available. Thanks for taking part and viva la revolucion!
Name: Aly Seeberger
Title: Graduate Student in Museum & Field Studies
Where do you work primarily? As a graduate assistant in the Zoology collections for the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.
What you do in your day job? Anything and everything, from skinning and prepping specimens to cataloging and data entry. Once I carried a taxidermied egret across campus and someone asked me if it was alive.
What’s your role with NfN and what do you hope to gain from it? If relevant, how will your research benefit? My role with NfN is primarily “interested party”, but I have helped with some of the text development and beta testing for the program. I hope to integrate NfN and its users into my master’s thesis, with deals with citizen science participants’ motivations. This research will benefit the citizen science community at large by making it easier for institutions to identify and fulfill the needs of participating citizen scientists, and by satisfying these users so that their work with citizen science projects is as rewarding as it can be.
What’s the most exciting aspect of citizen science work from your point-of-view? There is essentially nothing about citizen science that I don’t find exciting, but I think for me the best part of these projects is the potential for exposure to “real science” in a way that few people get, especially those who don’t work in scientific disciplines. There is something about seeing a scan of a museum ledger, a piece of ancient papyrus or a ship’s log, that makes this data real in a way that I think really makes it meaningful. For us, museum records themselves may not be so thrilling, but even those are a glimpse into a behind-the-scenes part of the field that few people have access to, and that is a huge draw as well as a really interesting and rewarding experience.
Name: Rob Guralnick