Electronic taxon data and publications+

Hugh D. Wilson wilson at BIO.TAMU.EDU
Sun Oct 29 09:35:53 CST 1995

 Karen Wilson considers the question, "Besides the need to be connected to the
> net, what would be the major constraints for using such a system as the
> single authoritative index of taxonomic data?"

Seems to me that new media allowing work within an electronic
classification matrix also provide an opportunity to move beyond
'authority' and toward consensus.  Two central 'service' elements of
plant systematics - classification (rank, circumscription) and
distribution - have been developed via sequential publication of
hardcopy regional floras.  Increased resolution WRT the flora of the
US Great Plains can, for instance, can be tracked by examining the
historical series of state or regional publications with the final
'authority' resting in the most recent (most accurate) effort.

Given current efforts of those working with the Great Plains flora,
it is likely that data relating to both taxonomic structure and
distribution will be 'lifted' to the WWW.  This transition will open
two options not available via traditional publication:

1.  Immediate update/revision
2.  Review by those not immediately responsible for the data that -
if based on firm data - can produce an immediate, positive change

I don't see any problem with *using* such a system.  The central
challenge, from my point of view, is creating an interactive system
that would allow increased resolution via input from the broader
taxonomic community and immediate revision with new data.  The main
problems in this new realm may relate to the traditional notion of
'authority' - as applied to taxonomic opinion/turf/'ownership' - and
the implementation of an interactive system that is based only on
data of varying quality that can be supplied from the global

The two prototype (NOT a finished product) pages mentioned earlier


and cacti


can be browsed and, given complexity and size of both taxa and
regions covered (plus the preliminary nature of the data), errors and
ommissions are evident (some also do to programming problems
currrently under investigation). We can easily take electronic peer
review by embedding 'mailto' links (or by created some other
email-based system) in these documents, but one wonders how this input
would be evaluated and thereby incorporated or not incorporated into
an 'evolving' picture of both families over the BONAP range.  Given
the nature of the fine BONAP data set, it is probably possible to
create a WWW system that would provide various 'alternative'
perspectives on taxonomic structure (and - as a result -
distribution) thereby avoiding, or at least minimizing, constraints
that can be imposed by 'authority'.

We are considering various options that would allow movement of these
pages into an 'interactive' mode and would appreciate input from
those with an interest in this type of enterprise.  Both pages are
fully machine generated - each takes less than a minute to produce.
Thus, 'trial and error' experimentation with the interface is

Hugh D. Wilson
Texas A&M University - Biology
h-wilson at tamu.edu (409-845-3354)

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