Subject: Sale of Zoo Record

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Wed Oct 22 18:18:23 CDT 2003

> How much better if Zoo Record could become an international
> effort, with the
> effort shared across different continents. This should ensure both better
> access to local journals and better understanding, through use of native
> speakers.

EXACTLY! EXCATLY! EXACTLY! Not just distribute to continents.  Not just
distribute to individual journals.  Distribute the work to the *authors*.

It is an AMAZINGLY huge and expensive task for any one organization to stay
afloat of the sea of published literature pumped out virtually daily.
Imagine if there was some mechanism by which scientists could "register"
their own research efforts in a highly coordinated and distributed data
archive.  When you think about how much effort and time a researcher puts in
to producing a publishable manuscript, how hard would it be, really, for
this researcher to spend, oh, 10 or 15 minutes going to a website and
submitting a few details about the published reference -- publication
citation details, abstract text, err...maybe the names of new taxa described
therein (ahem, ahem....).  I mean seriously.... compared to the amount of
effort it took to do the science, write and format the manuscript, respond
to reviewers' comments, etc., etc., a few minutes on a web site is about as
close to "nothing" as one can get.  For the vast majority of researchers, it
would be a cut-and-paste job from their word processor to their browser.
For those researchers still fearful of the web, get a co-author or a grad
student to do it for you.  Live in a part of the world without web access?
Mail a hard copy of the reprint to a colleague and ask them to do it for
you, or pay ten bucks to have the Journal do it for you.

The only two components that do not exist yet are:

1) the system itself; and

2) the incentive to authors to "register" their new pieces of science.

As to the first, surely there are enough clever web-savvy people out there
who could write an NSF proposal to build a robust, working prototype and
sort out the bugs.  Once operational, the way to keep it perpetual is to
make it distributed.  Not "distributed" in the sense of one chunk of
information at one institution, and another chunk at another institution;
but rather 100% of the information mirrored at dozens of institutions.  The
prototype project would, presumably, include the development of all the
protocols to maintain synchrony among all the different servers around the
world.  The "big" institutions would want to maintain copies on their
servers simply for the prestige factors (and to give their own employees
speedy access to the data via the local LAN).  The way computer technology
is going, hardware costs would be trivial. Labor costs for keeping the
server going would vanish into the general IT budget of each host
institution (the system would be essentially automatic, with 99.99% of the
actual labor donated for free by all the scientists of the world who
contribute information about their own publications, and who can't resist
the temptation to correct the mistake of a colleague who goofed and entered
some piece of data in error).  If some institutions fall on hard times and
need to cut their support, there are still dozens of other mirrors around
the world to carry it forward.

As for number 2 (incentive to authors), look no further than GenBank. The
incentive by the researcher to upload the info would be the same as the
incentive to publish it in the first place -- to get it into the hands of
people who might want to read it.  Think of it as a massive bulletin board
to announce the existence of the results of your scientific efforts to the
whole world (the system I envison would include an automated email
notification system, to alert researchers to the existence of new
information within their field or taxa of interest).  The trick is to get
the "community" (biologists? taxonomists? ichthyologists? whatever scale
gets the ball rolling) to converge on a common, distributed system. From
there, the snowball grows.  Again, look at GenBank.  What is the incentive
for researchers to submit sequences there?  There will be plenty of
incentive, I'm quite confident.

The big obstacle is not funding.  I'm sure the funding could be got.  The
big obstacle is this invisible barrier to cooperation that somehow pervades
biology (taxonomy in particular).  What needs to happen is to get the
working prototype functional so the scientific world could see how it would
work, and then get the word out until critical mass is achieved (again,
think GenBank). It could start with something as "simple" as Registration of
taxon names -- or it could be as general as biological abstracts (or maybe
even "scientific abstracts").  The point is, there are literally THOUSANDS
(tens of thousands?) of people out there who would willingly contribute the
time to get their *own* research uploaded (and who better to transcribe it
more accurately than the author?).  Spread the labor widely like that, and
the content will self-organize, and self-maintain.

Oh, boy...look at the time.  Gotta run....


Richard L. Pyle
Natural Sciences Database Coordinator, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at

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