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More on Bridging the Gap Between Ecologists and Computer Scientists

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Karen A. Frenkel

 More on the panel, folks. I asked audience members what was the most salient thing they had learned so far from those not in their discipline. Cornell Associate Professor of Natural Resources Evan Cooch, an evolutionary ecologist by training, responded:

If I had to do it all over again, I’d be a math major, engineering major, comp sci major and a bio major. Or some combination of those. (Laughter)

What strikes me the most…is that if we could navigate the language, the density with which some of the material is presented on the computer science side, ecologists would realize that are a lot of opportunities for us…

It’s now about how best to balance our need, our interest in big conceptual problems with the practical need most of us have. We’re not going to write 50,000 lines of C code, even those of us who can. If you don’t give me something that I can compile, install, and run, it’s not going to go very far. Some of us are using software that hasn’t been supported in 10 years because we know how. We’re making decisions based on that paradigm.

For me this is a mix of, fascination, frustration and enthusiasm. I’d like to…sustain the momentum (here).

I remember vividly describing a problem to engineering guy and I asked if he’d like to work on it. He said, “Well, we’ve already got $50 zillion from NOAA or EPA. What do you guys have?” (laughter) It was that simple. There was no dispute that the question was interesting. But there is a gap. We all knew this as academics and researchers––the difference between a neat idea and what we’re going to spend time on. We generally don’t have the luxury to work on something just because it’s interesting.

Hopefully the gravitas of climate change, sustainability, the world going down the toilet in a fashion, will (change that.)…There’s a culture and funding gap that we somehow have to bridge to get people to engage. I’m encouraged that people have come and hopefully we will reconvene to work on problems. Because if all we do is sit around and say ‘Boy there’s some really neat stuff,’ then it will be a failure. I need to take the ideas I’ve heard and figure out how to get smart people to work on those problems. I’ve been encouraged and somewhat challenged by where we’re going to go.

Karen A. Frenkel writes about science and technology and lives in New York City. Here’s her website.



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