Catalog vs curate

Peter Rauch peterr at VIOLET.BERKELEY.EDU
Tue Sep 12 21:32:47 CDT 1995

>Date:         Tue, 12 Sep 1995 19:33:21 EDT
>From: Una Smith <una at DOLIOLUM.BIOLOGY.YALE.EDU>

Peter said
>> One of the troubling issues in creating systems to manage online
>> catalogs is how those systems are designed (or not) to deal with
>> updates/corrections/alternative opinions.

Una said
>That's very true, but I think it's also far outside the scope of this
>particular topic.

Hardly outside the scope. It's in fact the core of the issue. If you
argue that there is risk in entering 'bad' data into a catalog (online
or otherwise), then you've got to talk about systems that permit correcting
the data (and remembering the changes).

>> "Cataloging work" that either transcribes traditional catalog data to
>> online media, or creates new online catalog data _does_ create data.

>Transcription from paper to on-line media creates data?  How is that?
>I defined cataloging as the creation of data *records*, which I do not
>think is equivalent to creating data.  Do you have a different idea?

Well, if you expect and get perfect transcription, then I guess you're
right. But, I think Doug Yanega provided an example, of which thousands
more could be found, where during the transcription process, data are
created. In addition, there are all those unintentional "creations" --of
transcription errors. Gotta deal with that stuff too.

Peter said
>> A funding agency that insists on finality is in its own final stages
>> of senescence. An agency that insists that its funds be well-spent,
>> and that data be treated as such, is wise.

Una said
>  We find ourselves faced
>with an immense challenge:  to turn musty old (sorry!) natural history
>collections into (ultimately) fully integrated components of a global
>information system.  And to do it rapidly and cheaply.

Who said "cheaply"? "As cheaply as possible" perhaps, but I don't think
many serious people believe "cheaply".

Una said
>  [poorly designed or mixed bag systems] ... That's no
>fault of anyone:

I don't agree. Someone is responsible, not for failing to be omniscient,
but for poor design. The implication I had in mind for "poor design" was
that good design and good implementation following good analysis was
possible, i.e., others have already blazed that particular path and
the poor design resulted from ignorance of that history and not from
tackling unknown futures.

Una said
>  But I think that
>even a poorly designed system can succeed if it is used well,

OK. If you're stuck with a (poorly designed) system in hand, make the
best of it. But, please don't come around asking to fund or to continue
funding (disproportionately expensive) operation of a poorly
designed system.

>        Una

A number of your other points argue the spectre of "what if people are
forced into impossible situations".  What can I say? If you're in an
impossible situation, it's impossible. I hear you saying that the
funding agencies are generally responsible for putting people in these
impossible situations. I suppose that funding agencies make mistakes
too.  However, I don't think they're in the business of creating
impossible situations, and I suspect that there are projects that were
funded and were neither impossible nor poorly designed.

Let's face it. Even if not another dime were spent on creating
computerized databases, and all that funding were redirected to more
traditional systematics activities, those funds wouldn't amount to a
hill of beans vis a vis what systematic biology really needs in the way
of funding in order to make progress recognizing and cataloging the
world's biodiversity.  The arguments and energies of the community need
to focus on that reality, and not on how to divide up the current
peanuts. And, too, computerized databasing is here to stay, isn't it?

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