Topic: Future of recording and recording software
This is a rather grandiose title for what is a relatively simple question about how we record and use recording software.
Working with LRC data as part of the offsetting project I am involved with reminded me of some of the issues of acquiring data from disparate sources i.e. certain things that could be standardised are actually recorded in different ways. This made me wonder whether there is a case for trying to standardise the recording process a little more. The rationale would be that recorders up and down the country could be offered a standard to conform to, should they wish, that makes it more efficient to combine and compare their data. This would be done by working towards standardising online recording systems, as well as the database software that replaces Recorder 6 (assuming that happens).
Here's an example of what I am talking about.
A record of house sparrows for London is recorded as "about 20" in the abundance field in iRecord. A similar record for house sparrows for Worcester is recorded by a botanist surveying a local wildlife site, on paper, as simply "17". In Sunderland, a school recording scheme has decided to record abundances in categories, and the flock of house sparrows was recorded as "20-25". At St Andrew's University, a researcher recorded some house sparrows as "c.20".
The abundance of house sparrows could be a very important piece of data. However, analysing it could be made more difficult by the fact that in these examples it has been recorded in different ways. Could this be standardised? Would recorders want this? Remember, a standard is an option that means that people can use to ensure their work conforms, if they want it to, to known parameters. A definition might be "something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; an approved model" (Dictionary.com).
Another simple example might be a blackbird egg recorded as "egg" by one person "egg shell" by another and "ovum" by a third person. This may seem a trivial example, but I believe that there are significant real world examples out there which have cost people time, or at worst meant that biodiversity data wasn't used for certain purposes.
Perhaps what we are talking about is "controlled vocabulary", rather than a "standard" which comes with certain connotations. It may be difficult to achieve this, but it doesn't necessary mean it's not worth trying. Perhaps also, Darwin Core is trying to achieve this, in which case do we need to assimilate it more fully into the systems we use?
As a first step into assessing whether or not this problem is necessarily real or imagined, I would appreciate it if LRCs who have the time could send me spreadsheets of individual entries in their "sex / stage" fields. This should be a relatively easy query (something a like "count" for the relevant field). Perhaps it could be done for one taxonomic group (e.g. lepidoptera) so it's not too huge. Perhaps a similar query can be done for abundances, maybe for birds over the last five years or something. I will then compare the results to see if there are examples of where the same thing has been recorded in different ways. We may then want to discuss this further and see if this is a problem, and if so can it be addressed?