Archive for June, 2018

The Data Paper

June 15, 2018

The Portal Project is a living, breathing thing. Not only does the desert constantly keep us guessing, carefully curating the data keeps us on our toes as well.

The methods have changed slightly over the years as we’ve made some realizations about what works and what doesn’t, and, of course, as we’ve gained and lost, and gained, funding. How we collect weather data has changed.

We continue to discover details about the history of the quadrat and transect data. And as ecologists, we can hardly be expected to go 40 years without poking some things. While we’ve maintained half the plots in their original treatments, the other 12 plots have undergone a whirlwind adventure of experimental treatment changes; seed addition, plant removal, targeted ant and rodent species removal.

Not only do taxonomic names change over time, but we also keep getting better at confirming our species identification.

The names of the people involved in the project continue to grow as well. Maintaining a monthly trapping schedule for this long has required an army of grad students, post docs, undergrads, and volunteers.

We want to make these data as easy to use as possible, while making sure we also give as many folks as possible credit for their contributions. And those who use our data want to be able to cite it in a conventional way. Until now, we were doing that with a more traditional data paper, that we would rewrite and republish every time it ‘felt like time.’  But that just isn’t very satisfying. We’re getting new data on a monthly basis. Sometimes we discover that our description of a protocol wasn’t exactly right. We’re even getting new authors at a regular clip. It would bother our perfectionist minds that the latest data paper wasn’t it’s ‘best self.’

So we’ve decided to go live. We’ve published THE data paper to bioRxiv (the preprint server for biology); which we can modify with new versions, but will always maintain it’s doi and citation. Now we’ve got a living document that we can improve, and add data to, and make perfect to our hearts’ content. Data users will be able to access and cite all the knowledge that we currently have about the dataset, not a snapshot in time from 7 years ago.

Data paper

Of course, keeping a data paper up to date is just one part of what it takes to curate a living dataset. We’ve also got a paper in the works that describes our entire data workflow for maintaining the data, which helps us provide new data to the public ASAP.

Data workflow paper