Friday, July 20, 2007

Wolves, Ecosystem Research & the Semantic Web

In Boise, Idaho last night I attended a public meeting to hear the public present testimony about the U.S Fish & Wildlife Proposed Revision Regulating Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains. During the hearing I thought about all of the other similar environmental issue public hearings I have attended over the years and how ecosystem research can be organized into a more usable form as we start to apply technology being developed for the Semantic Web. I believe people want to know that reputable science can be explained by scientists, understood by citizens, and that it is used for ecosystem management and decision making processes.

This wolf meeting was posted in the Federal Register, Vol. 72, No. 129/ Friday, July 6, 2007, and would revise earlier wolf management rules in the following ways.

1. "... to modify the definition of ‘‘unacceptable impacts’’ to wild ungulate populations so that States and Tribes with Service-approved post-delisting wolf management plans can better address the impacts of a biologically recovered wolf population on ungulate populations and herds while wolves remain listed.

2. "...allow private citizens in States or on Tribal lands with approved post-delisting wolf management plans to take wolves that are in the act of attacking their stock animals or dogs."

Many people who testified in Boise lamented the short amount of public notice that was given. Similar meetings were also held in Helena, Montana, July 18 and Cody, Wyoming, July 17. (The Federal Register text also suggests several ways citizens can comment about this proposal and provides hand delivery, mail and e-mail address)

I was struck by the number of comments decrying the limited amount of scientific knowledge that exists about ecosystems upon which decisions regarding wild animals like wolves and elk are being based today. Many also complained that too often decisions are based on emotion, politics and economy rather than science, and this is especially true when State governments are given control.

One person testifying also thought we should consider the recent news about a number of federal officials and scientists in America who have admitted they have been "ordered" to censor and edit scientific findings in the last several years. One glaring example is that overwhelming scientific evidence has concluded for several years that humans are effecting global warming, but we now know that citizens have been confused because of political, economic and media manipulation and interpretation of the science. Is it possible that this is also happening with scientific information about ecosystems which include elk and wolf populations?

I assume that quite a bit of ecosystem science surrounding elk and wolf habitat has been produced by Federal and State agencies, Universities, environmental organizations, and even private businesses and industry groups. However, I don't know of an efficient and effective way for any of us to find detailed scientific information about complex ecosystem issues that might include Elk and wolves, and would certainly also involve a multitude of other species and a complex web of interrelationships that are important.

I should note that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is following legal federal policies in the Federal Register notice and is inviting independent "Peer Review" comments ... "to ensure that our final rule is based on scientifically sound data, assumptions, and analyses."

Assuming that the names and affiliations of individuals and/or organizations that have been invited to be peer reviewers will be identified to the public, it also seems reasonable that their own research and publications and those studies they reference in support or non-support of the proposed rule changes would also be identified. It also seems reasonable that the location and accessibility of all of the data bases of information and specific scientific ecosystem studies related to Elk and wolf habitat that exist for Federal and State agencies, Universities, environmental organizations, businesses and industries could also be identified and published at the same time.

My understanding is that the development of the Semantic Web and publishing on the Internet will greatly aid scientists and the public alike in being able to find detailed and reputable scientific information about general and specific topics. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, and director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), predicted in Nature Web debates, in 2001 that the semantic web “will likely profoundly change the very nature of how scientific knowledge is produced and shared, in ways that we can now barely imagine.”

One example of how the Semantic Web is already beginning to function was reported in in a November 22, 2005 article titled, "W3C Launches Group Linking Medical Industry with Semantic Web."

A very good statement explaining why the Semantic Web is impotrant and how it can be expected to benefit the entire life science community is found in a draft article Tim Clark submitted in February 13, 2006 for discussion to the W3C Knowledge Ecosystem Task Force.
"Problem Statement
Scientific knowledge discovery, publication and discourse can be understood as a knowledge ecosystem containing numerous lifecycle processes. Currently, information in this ecosystem is produced, moves within and is exchanged across public, corporate, private, institutional, and collaboration ownership spaces in the form of millions of semantically uncharacterized digital resources.

Scientists and health care providers increasingly rely on these resources to an extraordinary degree.

These digital resources can potentially be richly interconnected and contextualized in terms of one another. Establishing these interconnections is part of the process of creating, sharing, discussing, publishing and consuming new knowledge. However, such ecosystem process activities are not currently well-supported by digital models, because information interconnections across processes in the “knowledge ecosystem” currently lack a complete machine-accesible semantic characterization.

For example, there is currently no widely recognized machine-accessible semantic differentiation between a manuscript and a publication; or between an illustration and experimental image data; or between an experiment, its data, the data interpretation, and the hypothesis the experiment was designed to validate.

This problem exists across multiple scientific domains. We believe that solving the semantic characterization problem at the common level of knowledge processes, can facilitate not only the organization and exchange of knowledge within domains but across them. This will be particularly important in goal-oriented clinical research but can be expected to benefit the entire life science and health care community."
More recent information about how we can all start to contribute to and use the concepts of the Semantic Web is readily available. I referred to Noah Spivac's contribution in my blog post of November 16, 2006, titled, The Semantic Web -Minding the Planet, by Nova Spivack.

A July 3, 2007 article in Business 2.0 article titled, "What's next for the Internet"
Noah Spivac and his company Radar Networks and other big Internet companies are working to develop tools which will impose order on "one of the hottest buzzwords in computer science today: the Semantic Web." Another article on July 9, 2007 in Business Week titled, "A Web That Thinks Like You" also describes the Semantic Web software work that Radar Networks is developing "could help transform the net."

And finally, yesterday I found a Firefox Browser extension called Piggy Bank, that will let us publish Semantic Web data on our web sites now. The Wiki for Piggy Bank provides a download, installation instructions and several pages of instructions for users.

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