Since its inception in 01979 programs like the Long Term Ecological Research Network have been selecting and tracking ecological sites to be monitored over the long-term. The NSF funded LTER network hopes to codify what usually occurs by accident in science. For instance the “Keeling Curve“, which was one of the first bits of scientific proof about baseline atmospheric carbon, was not found on purpose. The Keeling curve was discovered as part of a control for another experiment on volcanism.
However it is only when we do the the same boring non-sexy data collection year after year, that we might see trends that only appear after decades or centuries. This is difficult science to keep going on an ongoing basis, and it is great to see it getting done. It is also worth pointing out that other institutions are doing “slow science” like The Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute which has been studying a chunk of Panama for almost 90 continuous years. We also now have over 50 years of Pan Evaporation Data thanks to the agriculture industry, which is leading to startling new realizations about the global dimming effect.
There is also a lot of science being done that would be great to make into slow science. For instance the many chapters of the Surfrider Foundation collect all kinds of data about the toxicity of ocean water in sites all around the world. Yet as far as I know they are not saving this data for posterity, as they are primarily concerned with how toxic the water is at a given moment. But just think how fantastic it would be to have that data from 100 or 1000 years ago?
I would love to hear about other “slow science” projects and collect them here. Either ones that are going on, or data that you would like to see collected over the long-term like the Surfrider example. So please use the comments field to suggest others.
Listing of Slow Science experiments (thanks for the additions!):
- Pitch Drop Experiment
- Long Term Ecological Research Network
- The Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute
- Pan Evaporation Data
- Keeling CO2 measurements
- (added) Audubon Christmas Bird Count
- (added) Framingham Heart Study
- (added) Sloan Digital Sky Survey
- (added) The Oxford Electric Bell
- (added) Rothamsted crop rotation experiments
- (added) The Beverly Clock
- (added) Up Series (more art than science, but in the same realm)
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