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Can indigenous peoples be relied on to gather reliable environmental data?
Date:10/13/2011

f plants that animals feed on and marking their observations on a map.

The training was not without its challenges. Many of the older villagers were expert bushmen, but could not read, write or do arithmetic. Many of the younger villagers, who had received some formal education, were literate but lacked knowledge of the animals and plants in the wilds around their communities. So researchers paired younger and older villagers to go into the field together. All the villagers were paid for the work they did.

Part of any scientific study is validating the accuracy of the data and Fragoso's team knew that no matter how well they trained their indigenous technicians, they would have to analyze the data for errors and possible fabrications.

The researchers used a variety of methods, including having a different team of technicians or researchers walk some transects a second time, to verify that they were regularly walked by technicians, that data were accurate and that reported animal sightings were plausible. They also had technicians fill out monthly questionnaires about their work and did statistical analyses for patterns of discrepancy in the data.

The most consistently accurate data was recorded by technicians in communities that had strong leadership and that were part of a larger indigenous organization, such as an association of villages. Fabricated data was most common among technicians from villages unaffiliated or loosely affiliated with such an association, where there was less oversight.

The other main factor was whether a technician's interest in the work went beyond a salary, whether he was interested in acquiring knowledge.

After all the data verification was done, the researchers found that on average, the indigenous technicians were every bit as able to systematically record accurate data as trained scientists. They were also probably better than
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Contact: Louis Bergeron
louisb3@stanford.edu
650-725-1944
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert

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