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With recent limitations on access to laboratories and fieldwork due to covid19, there is renewed interest in doing research that can be done anywhere with an internet link and/or computer access.

There is a rapidly increasing amount of scientific data freely available to researchers. So before going to the trouble of doing more laboratory and fieldwork researchers should check that it is really needed; what will be the added value of collecting more data to test your hypotheses and research questions? This is particularly important in biology and ecology where there are ethical considerations regarding the need to stress animals in the laboratory or capture and kill wild animals (Costello et al. 2016). Another reason to consider reusing previously collected data is the strict time restraints for students who need to do research to get their reports and theses submitted to graduate. Of course, developing laboratory and field research skills is essential to understand how data are collected, but it is risky to depend entirely on new lab and fieldwork producing sufficient quality of data for student projects. Thus recycling existing data saves time and money, and avoids need for ethics approvals uncertainties in data availability.

Using previously collected and now published data does not mean repeating previous work. Being able to ‘reproduce’ the results of a previous study is important, but assuming that is the case, the real added value of data reuse is asking new questions of the data and combining data from different sources to provide new scientific insights.

RESOURCES

Re3data is a catalogue of online databases that uses Datacite which “is a leading global non-profit organisation that provides persistent identifiers (DOIs) for research data and other research outputs.”

Figshare is where many researchers publish datasets (including some of my own).

Dryad publishes curated datasets arising from journal articles (including our data on mapping habitats in a marine reserve and trends in numbers of people describing new species).

Zenodo is a repository of European Commission funded research.

The bibliographic databases Google Scholar, Scopus, and Web of Science enable standardized analyses of the scholarly literature.

Lists of biological and marine environmental data sources are here, including the Global Marine Environmental Datasets (Costello and Basher 2019).

Collections of conservation-related tools are shapefiles are hosted by WWF here, and marine maps on the Ocean Data Viewer by UNEP-WCMC.

When you cannot get the numbers from authors to replot their graphs and combine them with your data, there are a few tools that will convert a graph to numbers for you, like the Web Plot Digitiser.

References

Costello MJ, Beard KH, Corlett RT, Cumming G, Devictor V, Loyola R, Maas B, Miller-Rushing AJ, Pakeman R, Primack RB. 2016. Field work ethics in biological research. Biological Conservation 203, 268-271. [This article was highlighted in an article on Retraction Watch]

Basher Z, Costello MJ, 2019. World Maps of Ocean Environment Variables. In: Encyclopedia of the World’s Biomes. Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, Elsevier. 11 pp. ISBN 9780124095489. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-409548-9.12076-7

 

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