Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ohio Natural History Conference 2013

 Greg Smith offered opening remarks.

The 2013 Ohio Natural History Conference took place last Saturday and it was a blast! In case you missed it and want to read about what was discussed, check out my live tweeting of the event on Storify. I was joined in my live tweeting by Sam Evans and Rafael Maia and between the three of us, I think we covered the conference pretty well.

This year's theme was "Natural History in the 21st Century and Beyond," which encompassed the broad topic of how today's technology affects how we tackle the study of natural history. Presentations broached some far-ranging topics, from how museums are adapting, to how DNA barcoding is changing our concept of what a species actually is, to the use of smart phone apps for tracking invasive species. Each talk was apropos to what's happening in the field now and brought up good points to ponder, as well as success stories. I highly encourage you to check out the tweets from the conference to read some of the things the speakers said and to check out links to their projects--maybe you'll find something useful for your research or fun ways to get involved.

Scott Loarie's presentation.

This year's theme was a logical continuation from last year, when the theme was "Citizen Science." The development of the Internet and its data infrastructure, along with the rise of smart phones, has helped citizen science initiatives explode in recent years. This holds vast potential for popularizing natural history in a way that hasn't happened before, and apps/websites have already starting popping up to test the waters. Two of the biggest ones that utilize smart phone photos are Project Noah and iNaturalist. It just so happens that this year, the keynote speaker was the co-creator of iNaturalist, Scott Loarie. The Ohio Biological Survey worked with iNaturalist last year to start a project on the site to record Ohio's biota, the Ohio Bio Blitz.

Scott gave an enlightening presentation about iNaturalist and its accomplishments (including helping to identify some new species) and also covered what citizen science as a whole can accomplish and what it means for the future of natural history research. (Again, check out the tweets to read about specifics.) The main hurdle facing citizen science is being able to guarantee that data gleaned from such initiatives are valid, rigorous, and useful. Scott's presentation proved that this hurdle isn't insurmountable, and hinted at a bright future (and present) for citizen science data.

As always, there were interesting poster presentations prepared by scientists (and nervous university students) from all over Ohio, showcasing a sliver of the research being done throughout our great state. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to peruse many of them, but I was able to meet up with Sam and Rafael to interview Jim McCormac for his thoughts about the conference for a segment to be included in a future episode of the podcast Breaking Bio. We're planning to interview Scott Loarie as well--I'll post a link when the episode is finished.

All in all, it was a mighty fine conference. There seems to be two lines of thought on the debate about how current technology (especially smart phones and the Internet) is affecting natural history and public interest in natural history today. Essentially, all these screens will either destroy natural history or save it and propel it to new heights. There are valid points on each side, but I subscribe to the latter view. After being exposed to a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your view) amount of technology in the form of video games, computers, and phones all my life, I've turned out fine and have a deep passion for natural history. 

The way I see it, without the technology I've been exposed to, I wouldn't enjoy natural history as much. I've learned how to identify bugs, better my photography skills, access resources hundreds of years old, and amass a huge portion of my natural history knowledge thanks to the Internet and the exposure into the field it's given me. I firmly believe that while technology can be a two-edged sword, it should be embraced by natural historians and used as a new connection to people, especially young scientists wanting to learn more.

I think Greg Smith summed it up best after Scott's keynote: 
"New technology is not meant to replace natural history techniques, but to enhance them."
And come on, for those of you who study bugs, who hasn't used Bug Guide to get an identification?

5 comments:

  1. "The way I see it, without the technology I've been exposed to, I wouldn't enjoy natural history as much. I've learned how to identify bugs, better my photography skills, access resources hundreds of years old, and amass a huge portion of my natural history knowledge thanks to the Internet and the exposure into the field it's given me."

    Yes! This! Exactly!

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  2. I credit all the time I spent playing Pokémon when I was younger as planting the seed for my interest in bugs today.

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  3. Technology as an AID to the field, never as a replacement for BEING in the field.

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  4. You're definitely right, Dennis. We still have to get out and collect the data. Plus, that's where most of the fun comes from.

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  5. I learned about this event a week before it happened, otherwise I would have been there! Well, better luck next year; sounds like it was a good time.

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