Spatially and temporally distributed data foraging decisions in disciplinary field science
How do scientists generate and weight candidate queries for hypothesis testing, and how does learning from observations or experimental data impact query selection? Field sciences offer a compelling context to ask these questions because query selection and adaptation involves consideration of the spatiotemporal arrangement of data, and therefore closely parallels classic search and foraging behavior. Here we conduct a novel simulated data foraging study-and a complementary real-world case
... eal-world case study-to determine how spatiotemporal data collection decisions are made in field sciences, and how search is adapted in response to in-situ data. Expert geoscientists evaluated a hypothesis by collecting environmental data using a mobile robot. At any point, participants were able to stop the robot and change their search strategy or make a conclusion about the hypothesis. We identified spatiotemporal reasoning heuristics, to which scientists strongly anchored, displaying limited adaptation to new data. We analyzed two key decision factors: variable-space coverage, and fitting error to the hypothesis. We found that, despite varied search strategies, the majority of scientists made a conclusion as the fitting error converged. Scientists who made premature conclusions, due to insufficient variable-space coverage or before the fitting error stabilized, were more prone to incorrect conclusions. We found that novice undergraduates used the same heuristics as expert geoscientists in a simplified version of the scenario. We believe the findings from this study could be used to improve field science training in data foraging, and aid in the development of technologies to support data collection decisions.