[seek-kr-sms] Re: Taxon/KR integration prototype proposal

Nico M. Franz franz at nceas.ucsb.edu
Wed Apr 28 09:45:58 PDT 2004

Hi there:

    If I get what you're talking about it's both interesting and important. 
Not being an ecologist proper, I've asked myself sometimes if the mere 
access to methods and loads of information will make someone switch their 
PhD thesis topic, or aim at a different thing in their next research 
proposal. But making a strong judgment either way (ecologists won't do it; 
they'll go for it and drop everything else...) is probably risky in itself.

    Other than that, I think that a data-driven approach may not always be 
optimal for an "NSF-obsessed" person(sometimes the equation goes: NSF grant 
= tenure). But it may be more attractive to someone more curious and 
secure. Research grants and papers are written in a certain way that 
doesn't always have to reflect the sequence of steps that actually led 
there. Sometimes it's the reverse: an "anomaly" came up and restructured 
the whole approach. The way it has developed, NSF seems sometimes unable to 
directly fund the most exploratory, experimental, undirected research - 
unless the promise is already perceived as being huge.

    I cannot at all speak for ecology, but in systematics, "NSF" (as if 
that were an entity removed from actual scientists) has sometimes been 
swept into funding research approaches that sounded really neat - in terms 
of hypothesis testing - but were ultimately not as fruitful as others may 
have been.

    My current conclusion is that SCIENTISTS should shape what NSF 
perceives as relevant. That sometimes takes the courage of individuals to 
argue strongly for what they're doing if it's a little off mainstream. If 
such individual ecologists can be attracted to the data-driven side, that 
may be an important sign.

    It really ought to be a cyclic interaction between observations and 
theories driving research, and maybe so far it's just been much easier 
having access to theories.



Nico M. Franz
National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis
735 State Street, Suite 300
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Phone: (805) 966-1677; Fax: (805) 892-2510; E-mail: franz at nceas.ucsb.edu
Website: http://www.cals.cornell.edu/dept/entomology/wheeler/Franz/Nico.html

>>>Deana Pennington wrote:
>>>>Sorry so long to reply...I've been at a conference without e-mail...
>>>>The entire scientific process is designed around testing 
>>>>hypotheses.  You come up with a research question of interest, then 
>>>>create an analysis to test it.  NSF funding (and other funding sources) 
>>>>are completely based on the strength (scientific merit) of the question 
>>>>and how well thought out the proposed methodology is.
>>>>The idea of integrating data simply to see if anything comes out of it 
>>>>is strongly resisted, as is the idea of tool-driven science.  The 
>>>>general argument is that science should be directed and focused along 
>>>>paths that have been rationally determined.  Occasionally a tool comes 
>>>>along that changes the way we can think about science (like the 
>>>>microsope, for example), and for a short time, some exploratory 
>>>>analysis is funded.  But that is the exception, not the norm.  The 
>>>>synthetic work that is being encouraged may depend on data integration, 
>>>>but it will have to be proposed as a traditional research question to 
>>>>get funded.  Its the difference between saying you want to put climate 
>>>>and hydrology data together over time to look for interesting patterns, 
>>>>and having a focused question that requires data integration to do the 
>>>>analysis (hypothesis: drought in the western US has resulted in reduced 
>>>>evapotranpiration in high elevation forests, which should result in an 
>>>>increase in runoff for a given increase in precipitation).
>>>>Actually, this seems to me to be a fundamental difference in the way 
>>>>CIS/IM and domain scientists approach problems.  I've been having a 
>>>>long-term discussion about this with Samantha.  The RCN classes have 
>>>>presented a data-centric view that works well with information 
>>>>managers, but did not work well with the domain scientists at the new 
>>>>fac/postdoc workshop.  They kept wondering what the goals/objectives 
>>>>were of the information that was presented early in the week (Why are 
>>>>we doing this?).  For the distributed graduate seminar, we have 
>>>>intentionally changed that order around to a research question 
>>>>focus.  We'll see what kind of response we get, but I think it will 
>>>>resonate with them.  Formulating your ideas through knowledge 
>>>>representation, pulling together concepts, creating approaches to 
>>>>workflows...those are early in the seminar, and would occur early in 
>>>>the scientific process, long before a scientists thinks about data 
>>>>models, structures, or metadata.
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