NATURE to save taxonomy!

Jim Whitfield jwhitfie at LIFE.UIUC.EDU
Fri Jun 7 13:17:40 CDT 2002

        Some of you interested in this thread may not have seen one
of the examples of the kind of searchable databasing many of us are
talking about - still woefully incomplete but a step in a very useful

        As Chris Thompson said many messages ago, there HAVE been
efforts to make unified searchable databases, and to exhaustively
list all of the species on earth (certainly not limited to the
example above, which is one of the later entries).   There have not
been *unified efforts* to make searchable databases (the difference
in wording is critical).  It would be really desirable for some
movement to arise whereby all of us would more or less settle on one
of these efforts and make a full success of it.   The problem is not
really lack of money or effort, as Chris has pointed out) - it is the
lack of commitment to a common goal without caring who gets credit
for it.
        If a large enough proportion of taxonomy as a field got
behind one of these searchable database efforts and only contributed
their own data to it, it would rapidly become an essential tool for
all of us.  I would bet it would be a short time before it would just
look stupid to compete.
        Computer-assisted databasing and searching are perfect for
this kind of thing.  There is still a need for some streamlining of
the taxonomic/nomenclatural process, whether it be the kind of
centralized decision making Doug Yanega (and in a somewhat different
permutation Charles Godfray) envision, or some other form.  We also
all feel the need to revise the "rewards system", both in academia
and museums, for taxonomic research, especially in the electronic
age.  But I really see these as separate problems,  and it might be
best to isolate these problems in order to supply the focus needed to
solve them.
        I envision the unified databasing, or at least the commitment
to such, happening first.  This might at least get us all on the same
page in terms of what needs to be done.
                                                        Cheers, Jim Whitfield
James B. Whitfield
Associate Professor
Entomology, 320 Morrill Hall
505 S. Goodwin Ave
University of Illinois
Urbana, IL 61801
tel. (217)333-2567 (office)
(217) 265-8123 (lab)
FAX (217) 244-3499
email jwhitfie at
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