Monday, May 14, 2012

Making Paleoanthropology A Real Science

There is a strengthening movement towards introducing more transparency in science by making data and papers produced from publicly funded research more readily available to all those interested. Paleoanthropology which includes the study of ancient human fossils has been an especially secretive field with researchers zealously guarding their fossils until they have completed their studies and published their results.

Kate Wong in Scientific American blog writes about recent efforts to end this culture of secrecy:

...Kivell thinks concerns about sharing fossil data are misplaced. “You don’t have to worry about getting scooped,” she says, explaining that a lot of the science of interpreting fossils lies in comparing them with other fossils, which is time-consuming work. “Good science in paleoanthropology is highly comparative, highly descriptive and cannot be done fast,” Hawks agrees. “If it’s not done with extensive comparison and careful description, it’s not going to be good.”

Hawks observes that genetics had the same problem paleoanthropology has with making data accessible. But eventually the geneticists “got over it as a culture.” Indeed, it has become standard practice among geneticists to upload new sequence data to a public database before submitting a paper on the findings to a journal for publication. “I really think most people want to see things more open than they are,” Hawks says. “[Paleoanthropology] should be a real science just like genetics is a real science.”

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