Registration of Plant Names

James Beach jbeach at EAGLE.CC.UKANS.EDU
Fri Jul 24 09:35:14 CDT 1998

To the authors and supporters of the MBG white paper on plant name
registration (in response to Jim Solomon's Taxacom posting):

The absence of any informatics arguments or signatories on your
anti-name-registration white paper is interesting.  Although your primary
arguments seem to be directed at the dangers of organizational and
bureaucratic centralization, there may be significant issues on both sides
of the question in the area of computerized taxon data management on a
global scale.  I have not seen Greater et al.'s (IAPT copyrighted) papers
on the proposal, but wonder if they consider community information
management issues with the way plant names are currently indexed as opposed
to what they propose?

If, in creating a single, on-line authoritative source of plant names it is
important for the systematics community to be able operate in a highly
de-centralized database model and in a networked information architecture
which links to other research, resource management and education
communities, then there are alternative ways to accomplish that, e.g. with
a distributed system of collaborative taxonomic authority file maintenance.
The Plant Names Project is one example of a reasonable technology solution
to a distributed database maintenance problem, which through replication of
data establishes a virtual single source of taxon records.  With PNP one
has the benefits of both perceived centralization of the data (through
replication) and autonomy of member institutions (or individual editors or
scientists) to be able to update all copies of the data (by agreement)
without the risk of building an office bureaucracy or a perceived political
imbalance of some kind.  There are probably several other technical
database architecture possibilities for the collaborative cataloging of
taxon data records, PNP is just one example.

It would be very useful if someone like John Schnase, who is an expert in
collaboration technologies and databases would offer his analysis of the
proposal from an informatics perspective.  John has thought a lot about how
to track and maintain sources of unique data objects (like taxon records)
and he would be able to look at the informatics arguments on both sides and
evaluate them from a process, human facilitation, perspective.

It seems to me that if you do not dig in to the underlying information
issues here, your counter arguments seem more motivated by potential
bureaucratic concerns than by the fundamental issues about how to most
effectively manage taxon information on an international scale for the
benefit of all systematics projects, large and small, and for linking taxon
data to other communities who need a stable source of names (not
necessarily stable names, but a stable source of names).

I think your white paper would be greatly strengthened if you added the
informatics arguments that support a 'no registration' view.   Somebody,
somewhere is going to centralize this data, it would seem appropriate to
consider the information management reasons for doing that and the
technical architecture options, before arguing conclusively that there are
no overriding benefits to logical or physical centralization or
coordination of global plant taxonomic name indexes.

This activity, managing taxonomic name information on a global scale in
automated form, is surely at the very heart of systematic biology.
Automating it in a organizational and technical infrastructure for the
benefit of the science and for society is probably the largest opportunity
systematists have to promote their science in the 21st century.  This is
not an area where systematists would gain, if some other group or community
took away the functions and management of this information, because of
botanists were unable to change, due to paralysis caused by political
territoriality -- not that I am accusing you and your esteemed colleagues
of that. (Nor am I siding with the IAPT -- but just stirring the pot.)

I have to admit that I am unable at this point to tease apart the issue of
centralization, either physical or virtual, from the issues that arise from
the specific implementation plan of the IAPT.  It could be that there are
two distinct sets of issues here, one of conceptual needs and functional
requirements of the discipline, and another pertaining to the specific
implementation plan.

Anyone care to try to begin to tease these apart?



James H. Beach
National Biological Information Infrastructure
U.S. Geological Survey Biological Resources Division
Tel: (785) 331-0398 or (785) 864-4540
E-mail:  jbeach at

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