“Which is the most important Indian ornithology paper recently written?”
I was asked this by a young M.Sc. guy recently. I was taken aback because I had never encountered such an intelligent question from a young post-graduate before. But there he was – and they all looked at me for an answer. So, after a little thought, without going through hundreds of articles on Indian natural history that I should have before answering, anyway answered “In my opinion, Taking Indian Ornithology into the Information Age By L. Shyamal.”
Now, Shyamal, no matter how militant he may be in his opinions, shuns the limelight and will undoubtedly disagree with me and be displeased by my actions.
At this stage, I will also disclose to you that he is a close friend of some years, a collaborator with me on Wikipedia and that I have met him a number of times.
But that is besides the point. Shyamal, putting it plainly and simply, is both a theorist and practitioner of open science. Read Shyamal’s views on Open science here on this very blog. And the article I have named above.
As far as practicing Open Science is concerned, he is the single most prolific editor to Wikipedia on Indian natural history and biodiversity. He has an edit count of 34,176 edits to Wikipedia which is quite fantastic. His edit contributions can be found here. Besides this, to date, Shyamal has donated, improved and uploaded 5200 free images to Wikimedia Commons which can be seen here 250 images at a time..
Shyamal is creative. He uses Inkscape and makes small, simple, easily printed scalable drawings of birds : cheap to print & places them under a free license on Wikimedia Commons. Find svg birds by Shyamal and many others over here. Use them as you wish – even commercially.
Shyamal spends a lot of time finding obscure details about Indian natural history and adding them to Wikipedia. He finds old material and loads them to http://www.archive.org. He has uploaded a large number of the iconic Newsletter of Birdwatchers of Dodda Gubbi post days on that site.
Shyamal created BirdSpot and provided that data and that dataset under a free license. This was the first common man’s implementation of a GIS in India.
But none of that matters. No matter how good or bad he is, it still wouldn’t matter.
Because, in this paper Shyamal has objectively analysed for us where we are, what needs to be done and what is the way to go ahead. The quality of science displayed in articles and actions of our birding community increases in bits and spurts and then takes a step back in time before returning to its jerky progress. We need to face the demon and berate it soundly. Then alone can we make it cower. And this we can do only if we are brutally honest with ourselves. Shyamal’s paper is honest in this manner. I’m deliberately not commenting more on the paper. It is for you to read and see where both Shyamal and I am coming from.
Now, doling paeans of praise on a friend is no longer politically correct. But faujis are not politicians. We call a spade a spade.
So, don’t believe me, abhor my parochial actions, disdain the personal depths I have probed but read for yourself and see!
Images: All freely licensed. Click image to reach source.