This Friday, 16 October, the project team convened for its monthly meeting. We discussed different research lines and had interesting discussions.
One part of the project aims to use qualitative interviews with taxonomists to confront theoretical perspectives and discussions with the actual perceptions and opinions of active taxonomists. However, such social research faces some intricate methodological difficulties. More precisely, there is a trade-off regarding how much of a conceptual framework to build before the interviews: the objective is to get insight in the perspectives and the semantics of the interviewees, so excessive conceptualisation in advance creates the risk of projecting bias in the interviews. On the other hand, too much openness limits standardisation and makes it difficult to test specific hypotheses. Our approach will be to hold an inductive exploratory round of interviews, the output of which will be used to develop a conceptual framework and specific research hypothesis, which will then be used in a larger confirmatory round. We hope to start the exploratory round by December.
A second line of research is to assess the ‘distribution of taxonomic effort’ through a digital humanities approach. It is commonly thought that certain taxa receive more taxonomic attention than others, for instance taxa that are attractive or economically important. However, there has been little quantitative assessment of this reality. By using openly available data from Encyclopedia of Life, IUCN and others, we hope to chart the distribution of taxonomic effort and link it to explanatory variables. The difficulty here is operationalisation: which metrics are both measurable and representative of taxonomic effort? How do you characterise the attractiveness of taxa, or their economic importance? This analysis will be complemented with a normative reflection on how taxonomic effort ought to be distributed in an inevitable context of limited resources.
Thirdly, we had interesting discussions with professor Charles Pence of the Université Catholique de Louvain and Mariya Dimitrova (of the academic publisher Pensoft). Prof. Pence works is the developer of evoText, a tool that is specifically developed for quantitative text analysis in the life sciences. Pensoft as a non-profit publisher works hard on rendering their output suitable for such analysis and provides various tools in complement. We are sure these will be exciting collaborations!
Stay tuned for further developments!