Announcing the winner of the Open Research Challenge 2020/21

The Open Research Challenge 2020/21 has officially wrapped up. We are thrilled to announce that we have a winning submission in the paleontology challenge from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol in the UK.

For our 2020 challenge, we asked young scientists from around the world to develop a solution to a problem most palaeontologists encounter on a regular basis: The frequently changing taxonomical classifications in the Paleobiology Database (PBDB). The reason we made this problem the centre of the challenge is grounded in the fact that, as paleontological knowledge grows, species names can change. Documenting these changes is a difficult, and, more often than not, these new discoveries don’t make it into the existing data repositories. As such, researchers spend a lot of their time making sure that their data is up to date before they can begin to tackle the big questions in paleontology. Now, we have a solution to this problem.

This year’s Open Research Challenge winner Joseph Flannery Sutherland has cleverly come up with a solution that will help paleontologists to flag and correct these inconsistencies in the data, and optimise their time so they can focus more on research that matters. Joe has developed a code that will automatically clean taxonomical errors in the PBDB. The database, used extensively for quantitative analyses of diversification and extinction, is made up of more than 1.2 million entries, not few of them erroneous or outdated. The code, developed in R, a statistic program, will clean, and ideally replace, incorrect taxonomic and temporal assignments of occurrence data.

Many congratulations to Joe from the challenger team!