Notes from Nature is something of a departure for a Zooniverse project. Rather than a single organization asking for help with the exact same tasks, Notes from Nature is, like its subject matter, diverse. So we have labels of bugs, sheets of plants, fungal specimen labels, and ledgers of birds. And we have a lot – and I mean A LOT— of images that need transcription. Not only that, but each of those images are transcribed more than once—as mentioned in previous posts, right now each image gets 4 separate transcriptions.
All of this is preface to the main topic of this post – how do we measure “progress” with the tasks of transcribing all of this data. The science team on Notes from Nature has talked a lot about this, and a number of complexities related to making sure that the numbers are transparent to you, our volunteers. This post covers a fair amount about how to measure overall progress. We also know that there have been issues with transcription counts for individual volunteers. We believe that we have solved those issues, but we’ll cover those separately in another blog post.
So, here are two of the main issues we have been dealing with and some recent solutions that have been implemented across Notes from Nature:
Issue 1: Do we measure total number of transcriptions or total number of images that are “finished” (e.g. transcribed four times)?
Solution: We have decided to measure total transcriptions completed across all projects and within projects. This is a change from our previous strategy which had mixed and matched these different counts on different pages. We think the most obvious measure is overall effort put in, even if this means it is harder to know how many images have been done.
Issue 2: Should we even measure “completeness” within a project (e.g., Calbugs)? The reason this is an issue is that most projects on Notes From Nature have only posted a small subset of available images and there are many more “waiting in the wings”. We don’t want to say “hey, only a 1000 more images to transcribe” and then just a little later go “Oh! Just kidding, there are now 50000 more!” Our ultimate goal is to stage the many remaining images as smaller batches with compelling themes derived from their research or other societal values (e.g., all specimens from a particular national park or collected by an important historical figure). This will give us a chance to celebrate the success of completion more regularly. At the moment, we are seeking funding to do this.
Solution: We do want to show that progress is being made on the current batch of images on Notes from Nature, but we want to avoid any confusion if more images are made available once the current sets are close to be done. So we are showing a percentage that represents total number of transcriptions completed over the total number needed for a batch, but we link to this very blog post to explain why those may change. We are also providing some information on progress with the images themselves, and here we provide counts of “total images”, “active images”, “complete images”. Below is a definition of each of those terms:
active images – The number of images that are either in progress with being transcribed or waiting for transcription.
complete images – The number of images that have been independently transcribed four times
Humans have been collecting specimens from the natural world for centuries. These specimens include samples of rocks, minerals, plants, fungi and animals. In fact, a lot of the knowledge that we have about the earth’s plants and animals is based on specimens that were collected in nature. These specimens are now housed in natural history museums. The world’s great exploration expeditions often included teams of scientists that documented the things that they saw along the way. For example, Lewis and Clark’s expedition of the western United States resulted in the discovery of hundreds of plants and animals that were new to science.
Today, there are an estimated 2 billion specimens housed in natural history collections around the world. This incredible resource provides us with baseline information about the biodiversity of the earth. In addition, the data resulting from these specimens has been used to address a wide range of society’s pressing issues such as public health and environmental change.
However, for this resource to be used to it full potential there must be better digital access to the collections. Most natural history collections are housed in museum cabinets, where they are not easily available to citizens and researchers. It is estimated that only about 1/3 of all natural history specimens are available digitally over the Internet! In effect, the other 2/3 of this biodiversity information is locked away from view. This is despite the fact that the natural history museum community is committed to providing access to this data.
The Notes from Nature project is about digitally unlocking this treasure trove of biodiversity data. Contributions from the public or informally trained people have always played an important role in the field of natural history. These citizen scientists, as they are now called, have made many important contributions, including collecting specimens and even describe new species. Today’s technology provides us with new ways for people to engage with natural history collections, and to help promote access to this biodiversity resource.
The Notes from Nature project has built a tool that enables citizen scientists to make a scientifically relevant contribution though the transcription of specimen label information. Please consider helping us unlock this important information by taking some notes from nature. Every transcription that is completed brings us closer to the goal of providing access to this critical resource.
Take Notes From Nature!