Gaining Perspective on What We’ve Lost: The Reliability of Encoded Anecdotes

Historical data are essential in fisheries management and conservation, especially for species that suffered significant population declines prior to ecological data collection. Within the field of historical marine ecology, studies have relied on anecdotal evidence, such as written accounts by explorers and interviews of different generations of resource users, to demonstrate the former abundance of certain species and the extent of their ranges. Yet, do we all agree on how these anecdotes are interpreted? This study examines the way that different people interpret anecdotes extracted from historical narratives. We outsource a survey to 50 randomly selected people using Amazon Mechanical Turk (www.mturk.com) and ask them to ‘code’ historical anecdotes based on their perceived abundance of species. We perform intercoder reliability tests to show that people’s perceptions of historical anecdotes are generally consistent. The results speak to the reliability of using people’s perceptions to acquire quantitative data, and provide novel insights into the use of anecdotal evidence to inform historical ecology.

Al-Abdulrazzak, D., M.L.D. Palomares, and D. Pauly. 2012. Gaining perspective on what we’ve lost: The reliability of encoded accounts in historical ecology. PLOS One 7: e43386.

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