A cautionary tale (electronic publishing)

Joseph H. Kirkbride, Jr. jkirkbri at ASRR.ARSUSDA.GOV
Fri Mar 15 15:39:38 CST 1996

This is a cautionary tale; I think that electronic publishing is
coming sooner or later.  But, we have to look ahead and plan carefully.

Charles R. Gunn was an early advocate of using computers in taxonomy.
He started his early work on a USDA IBM mainframe in Washington, D.C.,
that filled several rooms.  He used software developed by Larry Morse
at the University of Michigan; the software was very difficult to use.
When he started using computers, there was no charge.  By 1984 the
charge had reached $120/hour, in 1984 dollars!  He gradually stopped
using the machine 10-15 years ago, and 9 or 10 years ago the facility
was closed because no one was using it at $120/hour.

Gunn carried out extensive work on the fruits and seeds of Papaveraceae.
He constructed databases for the genera of Papaveraceae and for the
species of each genus.  Gunn first switched to a Wang minicomputer which
was a dog.  Because of the expense of transforming his data, it was left
on the IBM mainframe in downtown Washington, D.C.  Because of the
$120/hour charge, he used it less and less.  Eight years ago, Gunn and
I switched to PCs, and we have been doing everything in DELTA using CSIRO
software since then.

Recently a graduate student has been working on the fruits and seeds
of Papaveraceae for her dissertation.  Gunn's databases would be a good
place for her to start.  After hours on the telephone, the best guess
is that Gunn's Papaveraceae data is gone.  When the mainframe was shut
down, each user was responsible for his or her data.  Apparently Gunn
never got the message because he used the system so little.  A
valuable dataset has vanished into cyberspace.

Joseph H. Kirkbride, Jr.
USDA, Agricultural Research Service
Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory
Room 304, Building 011A, BARC-West
Beltsville, Maryland 20705-2350 USA
Voice telephone: 301-504-9447
FAX: 301-504-5810
Internet: jkirkbri at asrr.arsusda.gov

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