Accepted Paper:

Biodiversity databases - wishful meetings, differing ontologies  


Minna Santaoja (University of Tampere)

Paper short abstract:

I address Finnish attempts at collecting biodiversity data for the benefit of science, conservation, and society. Bulk of the data comes from volunteer citizen scientists, but harmonious meeting in data cannot be taken for granted, as the parties perceive data partly ontologically differently.

Paper long abstract:

Finland is a leading country in knowing biodiversity, largely thanks to an established citizen science tradition. European and Finnish biodiversity policies rely on strong biodiversity science and efficient knowledge management. Information technology and databases have become important underpinnings to policymaking. Internationally, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) is an effort to bring together and release data on the world's species in order to facilitate research and conservation. The corresponding Finnish project is the Finnish Biodiversity Information Facility (FinBIF) which brings together actors working with biodiversity data and aims at gathering data on all Finnish flora and fauna in one place.

From STS perspective, technological development tends to focus too narrowly on the technology at stake and lose sight of the social, political and cultural worlds built into it. There are good intentions and attempts for inclusion, but the neoliberalist perspective sees the citizen scientist as a data producer. The data managers may fail to see that the different groups and individuals connected to the biodiversity data network perceive the technological socio-natural arrangements as ontologically different. This brings about questions of exchange, ownership, reliability, validation and use of the data and legitimacy of the project. Roughly two ontologies can be identified: enabling and restricting. This paper presents an analysis of the Finnish biodiversity information "scene" with various actors, histories and platforms, and discusses the usefulness of the ontological approach in negotiating the sovereignty of nature.

Panel A06
Meeting (in) data