Mike D's rational comments (NOT grandiosity!)

Doug Yanega dyanega at DENR1.IGIS.UIUC.EDU
Mon Jun 19 20:06:56 CDT 1995

>From: Wayne Maddison <wmaddisn at CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU>
>To add my two bits about Mike D's comment that "No one should be
>contemplating constructing conventional keys as identification aids":
>Let's not forget that most of the world's biodiversity is in countries that
>have an awfully tough time affording computing resources.  We must consider
>the needs and resources of third-world countries if we are to set
>priorities in the techniques used in systematic work.  It's great to set
>our sights high and dream of an ideal world, but we are not there yet, and
>keys printed on paper will still be used by those sweating over microscopes
>lit by flashlights in tropical forests.

To which I would add that there is another alternative (if the critters
being identified are of the right sort; i.e., *not* 3mm long), and that is
a diagnostic field guide, which does not necessarily involve the use of
dichotomous keys in the first place. This lies somewhere in between - too
expensive for ordinary publication (from the author's perspective), but
easier to work with from the *user's* perspective, with many of the
"non-linear" benefits of the interactive CD-ROM approach (without requiring
high-tech user equipment).
        Actually, with modern printing and image processing, one can shoot
color slides, convert them to digital files, and cosmetically edit them to
produce a final printed product that looks *better* than a photographic
reproduction, and is *cheaper* to print (because one can do the color
separations before sending the images to the printer, and color seps are
one of the most expensive steps in the process). Making a color key or
field guide is easier and cheaper now than it ever has been. Furthermore,
after doing this, one still has all those images in digital form, and they
can be then used to make an "interactive" key if ever someone becomes so
inclined. This is, in fact, the process we're following for a Cerambycid
field guide I've written - I don't myself have plans to do the interactive
key, but the files will remain with the INHS in case someone does. We're in
the process of negotiating with an imaging consultant to do the scanning
and editing for some 400 slides, and even adding in his fees (probably in
the neighborhood of $5000) we should have a remarkably cheap production
cost. The argument of how expensive all this hgh-tech stuff might be is to
some extent a matter of scale. This is a field guide to some 350 species,
over 30 full-color plates, and the total expenditure should be under 20,000
dollars for the first-run printing of 3,000 copies. Considering the end
product, that is a very good cost per copy. At that scale it might even be
conceivable to budget such costs into a grant proposal (or is it wishful
thinking to expect that one can allocate a large portion of a systematics
grant to printing costs?).

Doug Yanega      Illinois Natural History Survey, 607 E. Peabody Dr.
Champaign, IL 61820 USA     phone (217) 244-6817, fax (217) 333-4949
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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