Website Review: ORSA

Full Name: Open Research Scan Archive (formerly Penn Cranial CT Database)


Content: High-resolution (sub-millimeter) CT scans of human and non-human crania from the Penn University Museum and other institutions

How Many Items/Sites/Projects/Images: about 2900 entries in varying states of completion (October 2009)

Principal People Involved: P. Thomas Schoenemann (James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA; Penn Museum, University of PA, Philadelphia) and Janet Monge (Penn Museum, University of PA)

orsa1overview page

Authorship: None for entries; general site use requires acknowledgment of Penn Museum, ORSA, as well as Janet Monge and P. Thomas Schoenemann; additional acknowledgement for some specimens, e.g., from other institutions

Host/Maintenance: University of PA; ditto; update frequency not stated (no. of entries unchanged since August 2009)

Permanence/Archiving: Connected with the Human Brain Evolution Laboratory, originally in Philadelphia but recently relocated to James Madison University; no archiving policy stated

Licensing: Policies page; only non-commercial use with acknowledgment of Penn Museum, ORSA, as well as Janet Monge and P. Thomas Schoenemann; in the database, there is a field that notes potential access restrictions such as for specimens from other institutions; no citation guidelines

Usefulness: 3D scans of crania are more accurate than hand-measurements, so that with the right computer aids researchers all over the world can access and use these data; made an appeal to contribute specimens to the database so they can become a clearinghouse; right now the largest contribution to the database is from the Morton collection at Penn Museum

Ease of Use: The system is designed for specialist use; interface and navigation are basic (FileMaker) but probably sufficient for its target audience; online virtual museum of 3D images of important fossils and skulls for teaching purposes is planned

Appeal: Simple look and feel accentuates the fact that this is in its current state basically a 2-person project; the original (?) paintings are a nice touch

orsa1apage of entry no. 1 in the database

Accessibility: Name yields a no. 1 result in Google; for “cranial measurement database,” however, ORSA doesn’t even appear on the 1st results page; items from it aren’t easy to find online

Credibility: Because the collection isn’t so easy to find online, it is difficult to measure its credibility, in terms of citation and reuse of the collection’s materials by the community; association with highly-respected Penn Museum provides credibility (unfortunately, now cash-strapped and relinquishing its materials-research focus…); original Morton Collection fraught with racist issues, hence disclaimers

Reuse: Data not ready to export in convenient formats; entries can be viewed in tabular form but not downloaded as such

Web Citations: Only 1 result for “Open Research Scan Archive” in Google Scholar

Interesting approach: “In the spirit of open access to data, we require that anyone with image datasets of their own contribute these to the Open Research Scan Archive in exchange for obtaining scans currently in our archive. Any restrictions you wish to place on these donated images will of course be respected.” (Kudos to ORSA for advocating for open access to data! This is a bold statement and it would be interesting to find out how this requirement is being enforced and if it is, indeed, leading to greater contributions from image-holders, rather than just use of images by an unknown community of users.); “ORSA” unfortunately also stands for Oxacillin Resistant Staph Aureus, a resistant bug that is the bane of modern hospitals, making searching by the acronym somewhat frustrating…; the project was funded through this year—note the strange “mummies” header—but its future is unclear as the Penn Museum has been reconsidering its research mission (the famous Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology, better known as MASCA, was abolished earlier this year; see Digging Digitally)

orsa2one of the information pages

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