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Gateway to the Paleobiology Database

Frequently asked questions

What are Fossilworks and the Paleobiology Database?
Fossilworks is a web-based portal to the Paleobiology Database. The PaleoDB is a large compilation of data about fossils. It includes a dynamically integrated master taxonomic classification and site-specific distributional records. Fossilworks adds to it an algorithmically synthesized global geological time scale that enables its query and analysis tools. Some of the PaleoDB's data stem from older databases it has incorporated, such as the Smithsonian Institution's Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems database and the University of Chicago's Paleogeographic Atlas Project. The data set covers all parts of the fossil record, meaning that it documents marine and terrestrial animals, plants, and microfossils of all geological ages. The Fossilworks site itself includes online tools for viewing, downloading, mapping, and analyzing data records. Fossilworks was created by John Alroy (the author of this page) and is housed at Macquarie University.

Why is there more than one PaleoDB-related website?
Fossilworks is the original public interface to the PaleoDB and is housed at Macquarie. A different Paleobiology Database site has been set up at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by a group of contributors. The Wisconsin site is using the name "Paleobiology Database" by mutual agreement because using different names should minimize confusion. The sites plan to exchange data on a regular basis.

How are the data structured?
The Paleobiology Database includes six main raw data tables that track published references, taxonomic names, taxonomic synonymies and classifications, primary collection data, taxonomic occurrences, and reidentifications of occurrences. Additional scientific tables track ecological and taphonomic attributes of higher taxa and species, measurements of specimens, and data about the digital fossil images on the site. There are also a number of bookkeeping tables. Meanwhile, Fossilworks itself houses three raw data tables describing geological time scales and a master correlation table computed dynamically from them. The tables are tied together relationally with record ID numbers.

Who owns Fossilworks?
Fossilworks consists of servers housed at Macquarie University and purchased using an Australian Research Council grant to me; software and a website created by me in 1998 and revised by me on a continual basis since then; domain names registered to me; a timescale data set created by me; and PaleoDB data contributed by myself and numerous other individuals. It is not owned by a university or funding agency in any sense.

How will Fossilworks be sustained?
I have a permanent position as a senior faculty member at Macquarie University and the sites' overhead is low in terms of funding and time investment, so I am planning to maintain it indefinitely.

Who owns the data?
Based on internationally settled law, individual contributors own the copyrights on their fossil collection data records because they are new intellectual works instead of simple facts. The reason is that most of the field values within a given record are based on the contributors' personal judgment and interpretation; very few are directly copied from published information. The United States government holds copyright over data records that were entered by its direct employees as part of their official duties, but all other records are owned by the listed data "authorizers" and made available to the public for academic use only and not for direct reproduction in any form. Some funding agencies including the National Science Foundation require researchers to grant them licenses to all data entered by personnel paid using their grant awards, but the awardees still retain personal copyright. Some types of data in the system such as citations to published papers are compilations of facts and therefore cannot be copyrighted.

Where did the sites come from?
The Fossilworks website and the Paleobiology Database originated in the NCEAS-funded Phanerozoic Marine Paleofaunal Database initiative, which operated from August 1998 through August 2000. The PMPD was organized by myself and Charles Marshall and I created its website and software at that time. The PaleoDB was funded from 2000 to 2006 by a National Science Foundation grant to Marshall with myself as a co-PI. It was privately funded from 2006 to 2010, and from 2010 through the present my work has been funded by the ARC. The fossil collection data set was founded on the PMPD, my North American Mammalian Paleofaunal Database, Kay Behrensmeyer's Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems Database, and Arnie Miller's Ordovician invertebrate faunal database. The taxonomy system was founded on my North American Fossil Mammal Systematics Database and Jack Sepkoski's Compendium of Marine Animal Genera. I have been continuously responsible for systems administration, database management, software development, and user support in addition to general administration since the beginning.

How should I cite Fossilworks?
If you use the Fossilworks site to download a data set used in a presentation or publication, I ask that you credit both the site and the database that is the underlying source of the data. Major contributors should also be listed by name in the acknowledgments section of your paper. A suggested format is printed when you download a large file and looks like this:

Behrensmeyer, A. K., and A. Turner. 2013. Taxonomic occurrences of Suidae recorded in the Paleobiology Database. Fossilworks. http://fossilworks.org.

I have also prepared several versions of a logo that you should display in your presentations.

How can I contribute data?
Fossilworks is not a platform for data entry, but the Wisconsin site is seeking contributors. In order to contribute data you will need to get a "data authorizer" account from them. Students who want to contribute should have their academic supervisors contact them instead.

Can I upload my data?
Sure. Send me a data spreadsheet that follows the site's general format and we'll go from there.

What about the PaleoDB's annual intensive workshop?
The upcoming 2014 Fossilworks Intensive Workshop in Analytical Palaeobiology is the same as the old PaleoDB workshop. I have changed the name to better reflect the workshop's focus on using the site's analytical tools, as opposed to its data entry functions.