Nevertheless, there is a fine dividing line between making data available for research purposes and simply being seen as the source of data upon which to build research proposals. Today, I got a request for access to the data from a PhD student who remarked that his PhD proposal was highly dependent upon access to the HRS dataset. Nobody had talked to us previously, so this came like a bolt out of the blue! OK, we will make the data available - after all, we are simply the custodians of the data and NOT the owners. We must not be protective apart from making sure that the data are used wisely and in the common good.
The problem I start to have is that the job of running a recording scheme for a popular group has evolved into pretty much a full-time occupation. I do not dare have a day off between about the end of February and the end of November and can anticipate putting in between 6 and 10 hours daily during the summer months. I know other schemes find it difficult to keep up with the demands on their time, so I cannot be the only one that feels the change. If running a scheme has become this demanding, there is a need to ask what motivates the recording scheme organiser and what will either:
- motivate them to keep going; or
- de-motivate them and lead to a loss of scheme activity?
I've got nothing to lose - my career has hit the rocks and in eight months time I will be able to draw my pension so I simply have to survive until then! So, I will say what others might be more reticent to say!
So, what motivates me?These days, my main motivation is to try to make sure that by the time I pop my cloggs there is somebody to take over from me, Stuart and everybody else. A huge investment of time and emotional capital has gone into building the HRS from a pretty shaky base into one of the biggest invertebrate datasets in the UK (and probably one of the biggest Diptera datasets in the World). That investment will be wasted if we have no successors.
The other thing that motivates me is that after all these years running the scheme (26 years now since 1991) we now have a long enough data run to start to do some nice analytical work and to publish some interesting papers. I WANT to do just that - after all, I was trained as a scientist, I have a scientist's mind and I want to do something meaningful with the data. BUT, I must remember that we are simply custodians of the data and NOT the owners.
I reckon we should be aiming to retire from the front-line of running the scheme around 2021 (30 years tenure) and I would like to think that by then we will have produced a decent run of papers; but to do so we must pull our fingers out (that means me!)
And what de-motivates me?I have to say that I have become increasingly frustrated to get the impression that recording schemes are looked upon by all and sundry as a source of free data. That starts with the biodiversity industry that is always looking for new ways to increase the volume of biodiversity data without stopping to think about who will compile it, verify it, generate the enthusiasm amongst recorders, validate records and extract records. In practice, it has meant that an awful lot of schemes have turned from a private passion into an Albatross - you cannot drop it without there being dire consequences for something that you have invested half your life in (well almost) but if you don't drop it you have to invest even more because the demands are increasing.
To then find that the academic World sees us as simply a data resource, builds PhD or other grant bids based on access to the data we compile, but does not bother to talk to us first is somewhat irksome to say the least. To then see papers emerging in which the data come from us but the credits go to the academics is deeply frustrating. It is of course 'Citizen Science' - that great unwashed with no scientific expertise providing the great scientists with the material to produce their latest papers.
I also become increasingly demoralised to encounter ever-increasing attacks on anybody who has the temerity to post a photograph of a preserved specimen or to talk about specimens as 'material'. Why should I have to spend part of my time defending the collection of data that is the only facility available to show mankind the folly of our actions? It is as if the worst part of mankind is that which lacks morality and is actually prepared to generate reliable and meaningful data. Far better to rant at Governments without reliable data and then rant because you've been shot down for lack of legally admissible information!
And the moral of the story?
I think it is time that the agenda changed from 'how to we motivate recorders to produce more data' to 'how do we maintain and improve the morale of the people that keep the recording schemes going?'
Rant over - but hopefully it sparks a meaningful debate!