Do not publish

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Science  26 May 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6340, pp. 800-801
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan1362

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  • RE: Publish or damn the species
    • Noel Douglas Preece, Adjunct Principal Research Fellow, Centre for Tropical Environmental & Sustainability Science (TESS), College of Science and Engineering | James Cook University

    In a series of recent articles, debate about the merits or otherwise of publishing data on the locations of species has been polarized (Lindenmayer et al. 2017; Lindenmayer and Scheele 2017; Lowe et al. 2017). The arguments are based on different perspectives, and are a contest of ideas. I offer another perspective as an environmental consultant and with a view to one important end use of data.

    My first observation is that enthusiastic amateurs will often find rare species, and will work hard to find elusive prizes. For instance, a live Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis), considered for decades to be extinct as no sightings had been made for a century, was rediscovered by John Young, an experienced, passionate (and ethical) amateur bird-watcher (Dooley 2013). The historical published records, which go back over 90 years, helped Young triangulate the location of the Night Parrot where he focussed his attentions. For some time, he refused to reveal the location of the discovery to anyone else, so that the birds could not be poached.

    Intensive field research by professionals since has confirmed the Night Parrot's existence, and extended its range (Murphy et al. 2017) to three Australian states. Subsequent research into newly-discovered or re-discovered species invariably reveals much more than was originally revealed by the initial 'discoverer'. The Night Parrot investigations conducted by Stephen Murphy and colleagues (Murphy et al. 2017) are...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Do publish
    • Rachel Kelly, Centre for Marine Socioecology, Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, Tasmania 7001, Australia
    • Other Contributors:
      • HyeJin Kim, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Deutscher Platz 5e, 04103 Leipzig, Germany
      • Roxanne Leberger, Institute of Biology, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Universitätsplatz 10, 06108 Halle (Saale), Germany
      • Michael R. Wohlwend, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Deutscher Platz 5e, 04103 Leipzig, Germany
      • Henrique M. Pereira, Professor of Biodiversity Conservation, Infraestruturas de Portugal Biodiversity Chair, CIBIO/InBIO, Campus Agrário de Vairão, Universidade do Porto, Vairão, Portugal

    In their essay, ‘Do not publish’ (1), Lindenmayer and Scheele argue that making endangered species data public increases risks of poaching, habitat disturbance and extinction. We recognise these risks, but disagree with recommendations for scientific self-censorship and concealing data. Promoting self-censorship encourages scientists to withhold information. Publishing biodiversity data is vital to foster research on newly discovered or endangered species and for the development of conservation measures.
    Lindenmayer and Scheele suggest providing species locational information to regulatory agencies only, but this is not always a more responsible approach (2,3,4). State agencies often only protect biodiversity in reaction to public pressure. Publishing species data informs the public, and can raise awareness and influence decision-making. Public engagement activities, including citizen science, contribute significantly to global species databases and research (5). Many citizen science volunteers are the first to identify rare or previously unknown species locations (6). Sharing data motivates public engagement in conservation and fosters social licence for science.
    Mechanisms already exist to protect sensitive biodiversity information without restricting publication (e.g. by providing limited location accuracy in the Darwin Core Standard, or by limiting sharing of location data in iNaturalist). But as the essay highlights, current policies are sp...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Public data archiving saves species
    • Hamish Alistair Campbell, Senior Lecturer, Charles Darwin University
    • Other Contributors:
      • David Kendal, Research Fellow, The University of Melbourne

    In their timely Perspective ‘Do not Publish’, Lindenmayer & Scheele (26th May 2017, p. 800) compellingly argue that limiting open access to data is needed to protect rare and endangered species. However, we are concerned that limiting access to data could be counterproductive. Public data archiving has had enormous benefits for the conservation of species, and limiting access to data is not the only viable strategy to respond to the risks of wildlife poaching and habitat destruction.

    Formal assessments of species extinction risk using population abundance and distribution data are now well established, for example in the IUCN Red List. [1]. These assessments are based upon the integration of multiple data-sets, recorded over many years by a mixed-bag of collectors. The assessment process has been greatly streamlined by the public archiving of species occurrence data through web-based open-access repositories. In the absence of public archiving, assessors would need to first locate the relevant scientific manuscripts, and then seek access to these data from the custodians. This process has proven unreliable as the availability of research data declines rapidly with age [2], and the majority of species occurrence records do not appear in the scientific literature [3]

    We believe that the potential benefits of public archiving of species location data far outweigh perverse outcomes, and strongly encourage researchers to continue. Instead we argue that guidel...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.