[Taxacom] The economics of biodiversity initiatives

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Mon Oct 28 17:33:25 CDT 2013

Alastair Culham wrote:

"One of the key factors I have to report on is the project 'impact' through a variety of measurables including public engagement, value to industry and value to research."

and Rod Page wrote:

'So, one challenge might be to figure out how aggregators can provide tangible value to those providing the data.'

These comments deal directly with Stephen Thorpe's post. Biodiversity 'research infrastructure', to use David Schindel's grand phrase, is obviously variable in value. BHL is very high value for taxonomists and as its 'holdings' get bigger, that value increases. CIPRES (http://www.phylo.org/index.php/portal/) has been wonderful value: at no cost, from my desk in Tasmania, I can do phylogeny inference on a supercomputer. And both projects are really and truly 'research infrastructure' - they directly support research.

I think Stephen has been pointing (in part) to the proliferation of acronyms *claiming* to be valuable before they're actually up, going and in use. The projects draw on public and private purses without a clearly defined set of customers and customer uses, and without a clearly defined set of measures with which to decide whether the money was well spent. Stephen argues that the case for their funding has been pretty much self-sealing. So and so many developers will be employed, the admin section will pay rent somewhere, server time will be created or hired. If those things happen and everyone can access the flash new Web portal, then the project has achieved its goals, right? Well, Stephen doesn't think so and neither do I.

So where are the hard-nosed, penny-pinching bean counters who *should* be testing each project proposal, asking not only why it's value for money, but also whether it duplicates or only marginally extends existing services (I'm thinking of BioVel)? The issue here isn't whether the money should be going instead to real research, but how and why the very large number of acronyms get funded at all.

Is Stephen right about the why and how? Is it also in part rivalry between nations or institutions ('We should have our own!')?
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
School of Agricultural Science, University of Tasmania
Home contact:
PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
(03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195

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