2023 M. Lee Allison Award for Geoinformatics

Presented to Simon J. Goring

Simon J. Goring

Simon J. Goring
University of Wisconsin


Citation by John (Jack) W. Williams

The 2023 recipient of the M. Lee Allison Award for Outstanding Contributions to Geoinformatics is Simon J. Goring of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For Simon, geoinformatics is a calling, in which advancing geoinformatics is the vehicle for advancing the pace and scale of scientific discovery and opening access to a diverse breadth of scientists, especially early career scientists.

Simon is the lead developer and designer for the Neotoma Paleoecology Database, which serves the global change community by making paleoecological data readily available to all. Many people have collaborated to build Neotoma, but Simon has been absolutely essential. He is a frontiers-crossing translator, able to track the latest developments in data science, and then to design clever ways of integrating these to serve practicing geoscientists. Simon has led the way in modernizing Neotoma and migration to an open-source stack. So often, in team conversations, I have served as the voice of conservatism, asking “Is this new idea truly important? Is it necessary?” and Simon is the voice of change, explaining with his passionate conviction why the proposed change will make Neotoma better for all those who use it. He continuously pushes us forward, lighting the path that the rest of us follow.

As lead PI of the EarthCube Throughput project, he has designed new systems for searching and identifying the linkages among open code repositories and their data sources and then annotating these resources and linkages. Throughput offers a clever way of mapping the emerging network of scientific data and resources, to understand how they are being used by distributed networks of researchers.

Last, and arguably most, Simon merits this award because of his passionate commitment to making geoscientific data truly FAIR for all. He’s served on the Leadership Committee for NSF EarthCube and chaired its Outreach Committee. Dr. Goring is co-leading a new NSF-FAIROS award to help paleodata resources follow the best principles of FAIR and CARE. He regularly designs training workshops to remove barriers to access. Dr. Goring is selfless with his time, always ready to answer questions from scientists of all career stages and countries. I count myself fortunate to have Simon as a colleague and view the Lee M. Allison Award as a rare opportunity to give something back to Simon, as he has given so selflessly to so many of us.


Response by Simon J. Goring

Thank you for this nomination and for this award. It is an honor to be included among the recipients of this award. From the list of awardees, it is clear that our work as practitioners of geoinformatics is intensely collaborative and cumulative by nature. Issac Newton said (and E. Robinson echoed in their acceptance), “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. Lee Alison was one of these Giants. He saw the path by which informatics would be used to bring data to light, providing a platform for transformative open research in the geosciences.

I first engaged with Dr. Alison through EarthCube; he was a tireless visionary who brought researchers together through EarthCube to lay the groundwork for the transformative geoscience research we’re beginning to see now. I’m proud to say that many of the people I first met as a postdoc at these early meetings are now my colleagues and friends, working together to support a vision of the geosciences that can help address critical societal issues through collaborative informatics approaches.

My own work owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Eric C. Grimm, one of the early leaders behind the Neotoma Paleoecology Database, my primary research and service focus. Eric remains a role model, and I continue to learn from his work and legacy. He was able to bring together a global community around data sharing in the paleogeosciences. Neotoma is his legacy of collaboration and community, and Neotoma showcases the selflessness of thousands of researchers who have freely shared and curated data to discover new stories about our shared past.

These shared stories underscore the need for our community to move beyond informatics approaches and to borrow strongly from the knowledge and insight shared by researchers looking at the long-term consequences of colonialism, institutional racism and structural inequality. We stand on the shoulders of Giants, but also on the backs of those who have been excluded, exploited and ignored. We have made many advances with respect to FAIR and open data. Now, we need to ensure that these advances are firmly partnered with work on the CARE principles, to ensure that the informatics platforms that we develop and deploy are leveraged to improve equity in the geosciences, rather than sustain systems of unequal access to data and knowledge.

I am proud to have been able to work with an incredibly supportive and giving group of individuals who have taught me so much. These include Jack W. Williams, Rolf Mathewes, Jessica Blois, Socorro Dominguez, Denise Hills, Andrea Thomer, Erika Marin Spiotta, Mark Uhen, Jacquelyn Gill, and so many others. Thank you to everyone, I truly appreciate you, and I hope that I can help and support others as much as you have helped and supported me.