Text Extraction Again (from Taxonomic e-text)

Mary Barkworth Mary at BIOLOGY.USU.EDU
Sun Jan 25 17:53:48 CST 2004

I thank Mike for the references and echo his skepticism about the value
of what is being attempted although I would be somewhat kinder about the
quality of descriptions in existing treatments, probably because I have
written  some of them. I agree that existing descriptions (including my
own) are usually not parallel.  Humans do not need complete parallelism;
they have a brain. I had a class use an interactive key to Utah plants.
The success rate was no higher than using ordinary keys.  Moreover, at
the end of the exercise, the students had learned little about the
plants they were identifying (the program is really irrelevant; it was
not Delta).

Granted interactive keys, which require much greater parallelism because
they are being interpreted by a computer not a human, have the potential
of permitting identification of fragmentary material. But we need to
invest in developing better, more complete descriptions, not extracting
information from descriptions that were never intended for use by a
machine.  This means funding basic taxonomic research, complete with
provision of technical support, not extracting information from old
descriptions. Even just marking up existing descriptions for rather
general characters requires, in my admittedly limited experience,
careful reading of an existing description to get all the bits in the
right place.  Of course, all Jim mentioned were names and "other taxon
attributes".  Perhaps he is not even thinking of interactive

I have used the interactive key for Utah plants - it is helpful in
narrowing down the possibilities when someone brings in fragmentary
material, but I do not consider it particularly useful for beginners. It
is certainly not within the budget of most individuals, this despite
being based on information in printed volumes with, I suspect, no fee
being paid for use of the information brought together by taxonomists.  


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