Punxsutawney Phil be Darned…We’ve Started Spring Cleaning

By Jeffery Robichaud

My kids are hooked on Storage Wars (they love Barry and despise Dave) and my wife and I enjoy Hoarders, probably since it makes us feel like better housekeepers than we really are. At EPA in Kansas City, we are preparing for a transition from one building to another and many of us are beginning to grapple with our pack-rat tendencies and being forced to open long forgotten storage cabinets. Such an endeavor should be easy; and the most important part of it is. Records are saved, stored, and managed in accordance with requisite policies and procedures. Unfortunately scientists tend to amass collections of journal articles, data sets, guidance documents, and even specimens that, while not records, represent a life-time of learning and serve as a record of an individual’s career spent protecting human health and the environment.

Which gets me to the hackneyed phrase, one person’s junk is another’s treasure. Case in point; a colleague of mine uses a discolored booklet which is older than I as a prop for employee training. I grabbed it from him one day and realized the title was, “Everyone can’t live upstream: a contemporary history of water quality problems on the Missouri River, Sioux City, Iowa to Hermann, Missouri.” It just so happened we were working on a Missouri River project, and boom there it was, information not present in EPA’s databases or easily accessible at the time in any library. We were able to use this secondary information to fill in historical gaps for our project. Secondary data analysis, using information collected by someone else for another purpose, can be a fantastic way to provide additional context and relevance to a project as well as save costs assuming the information meets your data quality requirements.

As we all continue our march from the paper age to the electronic, consider making your old information and data available through sites like Data.gov, Socrata, or any number of other open data websites. Although this may be sacrilegious to say, all science doesn’t necessarily make its way into published journals. I’ll be giving this a shot as I clean my cabinets. Who knows, something old and dusty may still be valuable to another person in the future for an entirely new reason. Now if I can just convince my wife that this is the case for my Star Wars lunchboxes.

About the author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation scientist with EPA who started with the Agency in 1998. He serves currently serves as Deputy Director of the Environmental Services Division in Kansas City.

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