One positive that may have come out of socially-distanced learning and research is creativity, the need for open-access, and collaboration. While COVID-19 has propelled and inspired innovative techniques in digital pedagogy, it has also illuminated the lack of data openly available for education. As a discipline, forensic anthropology is hands-on and highly visual, especially in education. Currently, there are casts for methodological training such as Suchey-Brooks pubic symphyses and Iscan-Loth rib ends for age estimation but, while these are extremely helpful for in-person education, it is not possible to expect students to own these casts— ranging in price from approximately $100 to well over $800 a set.
In a previous blog, I discussed “Ethics in Virtual Osteology | What Should We Be Considering?”. It is imperative that, when creating donation forms going forward, there are explicit consent statements for digitization to done in an ethical manner. Transparency in permission is only one hurdle that needs to be address. In order to digitize it takes time and access. This semester, I have been collecting data on our donated collection here at the MSUFAL in order to record which elements of which skeletons I will be scanning for dissemination. This process takes time to collect the data and soon I will begin actually digitizing the data. This being said, the privilege of having access to this data and to the instruments and technology to scan the bones, especially during these remote times, is something that I acknowledge and that is also the impetus of this project.
Pushing towards digitization is a push towards equitable access to limited data. This has already been seen in our field through the New Mexico Decedent Image Database (NMDID) a dataset of CT scans of over 15,000 New Mexican individuals with an exorbitant amount of supplemental metadata. This project was took years, multiple grants, and a lot of people who dedicated their time to create this unique database. In order to advance our field for all, these multidisciplinary, collaborative projects are essential to drive towards open access in a field of limited data.