Missouri Botanical Garden Open Conference Systems, TDWG 2014 ANNUAL CONFERENCE

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Risk, Data Quality and Truth in Labelling
Arthur Chapman

Building: Elmia Congress Centre, Jönköping
Room: Rum 11
Date: 2014-10-30 11:10 AM – 11:25 AM
Last modified: 2014-10-03


An acceptable risk often means different things to different people, and often our perception of a risk may bear little relationship to reality. This means that when we consider documenting data we need to consider how users may apply that information in determining risk and whether their use of those data for a particular purpose meets their level of acceptable risk.

Determining an acceptable level of risk is a common practice that is carried out every day by most businesses as well as insurance companies and others. These risks usually involve the chance of death or injury being caused by a particular job or activity. As well as injury, the severity of an injury is also a factor. Often these have little correlation. For example, with a group of students taken on an excursion to a small animal farm there is the likelihood of a student being bitten by as a small animal such as a rabbit.  In that case, the likelihood of injury may be high whereas the likelihood of death is negligible.

There are many uses to which our biodiversity data may be put. Some of those data may be used to determine if there are wild animals in an area where the students are going into.  Are they likely, for example, to encounter certain types of snake, scorpions, spiders, bears or crocodiles in the areas where they are carrying out their activities? People may be using some of our biodiversity data in apps on their smart phone to determine if the fungus or fruit they have just found is edible or is poisonous.

The risks we are talking about, however, may not necessarily be just risk to humans, but be risk to a plant or animal.  If we look at the Oxford English Dictionary for a definition of risk we find (verb) to “expose (someone or something valued) to danger, injury, harm, loss, litigation, etc.” The risk may be that collecting an organism, or carrying out construction could cause an organism harm or even lead to its extinction.

We can’t dictate how biodiversity data are used, but we can document it in such a way that the users can determine if they are suitable for their use, and if use of those data falls within their definition of “acceptable risk”.  This documentation of the data and their quality must take in aspects of “Truth in Labelling” so that the onus is then on the user to determine the risks involved in using the data for a particular purpose.

The paper will also discuss some possible methodologies for calculating and documenting the risk of causing harm to threatened species from development and other activities so that legislators and others can determine what is an acceptable risk before that activity or development to takes place.