We can dream, can't we?

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Thu Oct 11 09:47:10 CDT 2001

I'm obviously behind the curve this morning. Had I only read further down my
inbox this morning, I could have greatly shortened my contributions to this

Doug very effectively summed up some of the points I was trying to make, but
I'll add a few comments to his posts:

> The ONLY stable unique numbering system is one that *is* totally
> arbitrary, because that's the only way the numbers can be left alone
> when the name changes.  In order to remain stable, the numbers must
> explicitly NOT be intended to convey information about relationships


> what I'm advocating would be
> little different from present notation. If we now write "Papilio g.
> glaucus Linnaeus" it's not much extra work to write "345856: Papilio
> g. glaucus Linnaeus" (and that number would help when someone else
> prefers to call it "Pterourus glaucus (L.)," wouldn't it??

My feeling is that the number should, for the remost part, remain "behind
the scenes" in a computer, and not frequently find its way into
hard-published works (except in cases of confusing homonymy, or other
situations where ambiguity must be avoided).  As I mentioned, for the most
part I think that we humans can see the context and understand the meaning
of most taxon names in most cases.  When we encounter an epithet unfamilar
to us, we can turn to the computer listings (which would make extensive use
of the registration numbers), to provide for us the context. The main
advantage of having the unique and stable numbers at all is in how they make
computer tools more effective -- so we humans probably shouldn't confuse
other humans by exposing these arbitrary numbers on a routine basis.

[In response to Chris Thompson's point about ITIS numbers]

> But these databases point out one of those practical problems I
> mentioned: despite the complexity and detail of the information,
> these databases (and most others online) are available ONLY for
> searching.


> It is prohibitively
> difficult to look up each species one at a time and type the data in,
> but that's all I can do unless the authority file resides on MY hard
> drive, and not a remote location.

I share your pain....but I don't think we necessarily need to be thinking
about our own hard drives here. In theory, the internet should allow us to
use an authority file stored on a hard disk half-way around the world as a
direct, real-time authority for our local needs.  Conceivably, if the master
authority is stored on a $upercomputer with ultra-fast internet access, (and
assuming most taxonomists and curators have access to a reasonably fast
internet connection) then it can pump the data we need to us even faster
than our own single-processor desktops could with the data resident on a
local hard drive. Maybe internet technology isn't quite "there" yet -- but I
imagine it will be soon (likely sooner than it will take to gain widespread
acceptance among the taxonomic community for universal registration of taxon
names). Perhaps in the interim we can store local mirror replicates that are
frequently synchronized with the master....but now we're getting into
technical specifics.  The point is, we could be using computers to do what
we as taxonomists and specimen curators do with MUCH greater efficiency than
we do now...but for some reason, we're just not mobilizing.

Stumble forward!


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