From codens to communication...

Luis A. Ruedas usr7933a at TSO.UC.EDU
Mon May 9 23:37:52 CDT 1994


     While Gary Noonan concedes that I raise some interesting points,
he continues to press for an increasingly computerized scheme of
data and information sharing.  I have no particular interest one
way or another regarding the existence of a single accepted list of
institutional codens (I would welcome it, I just have problems with
the funding and man-effort end of it) I believe that increasing
computerization would lead to the alienation of a very large portion
of the systematic/taxonomic community.
     I will admit that I speak from a "discipline-centric" point of
view where 20,000 specimens examined is certainly far from the norm.
However, there are other ways to reduce cost than to altogether cut
such lists and provide them in a disk format.  Noonan writes:

>  A simple solution to handling specimen examined data is to put it
>  into a database, zip the database onto disks along with a data
>  retrieval program and include the disks with the printed
>  publication.  (One might also distribute ASCII files suitable for
>  import into databases.)

Is it really cheaper to provide a diskette with each issue of a
journal (or however many diskettes would be needed for as many
articles of a journal) than it is to tack on a few more printed pages?

Think of purely taxonomic journals such as Proceedings of the
Biological Society of Washington.  If, in the extraordinary case of
the 20,000 specimens examined by Noonan, this is just too cumbersome,
why not just add a note to the effect that such data are available
from the author upon request?  I am relatively adamant about
maintaining "Specimens Examined" sections in journal articles.  I also
am wholeheartedly opposed to any form of publication that would
proscribe the access to data and information to individuals who do not
have adequate libraries or computer facilities.

Noonan adds:

>         As workers increasingly use Internet to obtain information
>  from collection databases, the importance of unique codens will
>  increase.  We don't want to use resources to convert from 1 set of
>  codens into another.
>        In time of course many systematics publications will be
> published on-line, but that is another issue.

Again, the issue is not so much codens any more, but limiting the
access of data and information.  Just as an example, I have not seen
many messages posted on "TAXACOM" by folks in Asia (I cannot remember
if there have been any) and there certainly do not appear to have been
many postings from Africa.  Does it follow that individuals from these
parts of the world are uninterested in systematics?  Certainly that
could be one interpretation.  I suspect that a more realistic
interpretation is that there is no ready access to Internet and all
its accessory data sharing capabilities.

Just as a quick and albeit unscientific survey of whether there is
any truth to these assertions, I performed a quick check through
Gopher menus to see what was out there.  Here are the results:

=> Africa:  8 Gopher servers, all in the Republic of South Africa.
=> Asia: 46 Gopher servers.  Most in Japan, some in Thailand, Taiwan,
     Korea.  One in Malaysia, but no substantive materials (the
     submenus were, save one, direct links to United States, including
     US weather services).
=> Pacific: 48 servers, most in Australia, some in New Zealand.
=> Middle East: 11 servers, all in Israel.
=> South America: 28 servers, better geographic coverage than above,
     barring the absence of the smaller countries (Suriname,
     Guyana...).

While gopher servers are not the be all and end all of electronic
networking, surely I will be granted that they provide some sort of
baseline estimate of electronic capabilities.  Does electronic
publishing mean that we simply will no longer yield data to
systematists (or any other scientists) in New Guinea, Vietnam,
Philippines, Nepal, Cameroun, Togo, .... (the names imply no slight:
I'd really like to go to those places).

This is not political correctness taken to extremes.  There are many
more species and problems out there than can be tackled in many
peoples' lifetimes.  The more widely the data and information are
broadcast, the faster we will get to the bottom of things.  But such
data and information must be accessible to all investigators, not just
Internet cruisers and other ether jocks.

Finally, a comment on:

>  For example, if someone publishes an electronic note on Internet
>  stating that a given species is a junior synonym of another, should
>  we recognize the totally electronic publication as equivalent to a
>  paper publication?

Is it peer reviewed?  Nobody reviews or edits my Taxacom musings, and
I certainly do not list them on my CV.  Those two items tend to be
decent criteria.  For now, maybe Internet notes are just that:
musings.  Who knows what the future holds?  ==> Let us also not forget
how the powers that be in administrations consider these items when
the time comes for tenure or other types of promotion.

Science, to a great extent, is communication.  Do not limit
communication, and science will not be limited.


Luis A. Ruedas
Thomas More College
Ohio River Biological Station




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