Botanical Web Wish List

Joe Kirkbride joe at NT.ARS-GRIN.GOV
Fri Jan 30 09:58:55 CST 2004

Your points are well taken and generally represent what is currently
happening with taxonomic databases and other electronic materials.  In the
18th and early 19th Centuries, the situation was similar for printed matter.
The libraries held by wealthy patrons of botany were the only places that
references could be accessed; those without access to the libraries of the
wealthy could not pursue taxonomic botany.  The large national and
institutional libraries were created, developed, and grew, and the pursuit
of taxonomic topics became open to many more people.

In a similar sense, we are now back in the same position.  The taxonomic
databases are being made available at single web sites.  They are available
to all with access to an Internet connection, unlike printed matter in the
18th and early 19th Centuries, but they are not being conserved by large
institutions.  And, that was my web wish, that large institutions of various
types conserve taxonomic databases and other electronic materials into the
far future.

Research Botanist
USDA Agricultural Research Service
Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory
Rm. 304, Bldg. 011A, BARC-West
Beltsville, MD 20705-2350 USA
Telephone: 301-504-9447
FAX: 301-504-5810
E-mail:  joe at
-----Original Message-----
From: Roger [mailto:roger at HYAM.NET]
Sent: Friday, January 30, 2004 9:33 AM
Subject: [TAXACOM] Botanical Web Wish List

I have read with interest the discussions so far. Thanks for everyone who
has chipped in.

The thing that strikes me from the discussion is that there is no *neutral*
mechanism for hanging taxonomic data together. By this I mean a couple of
things - and this is as much opinion as anything else.

1) In order for data to persist through time it needs to reach a critical
mass where it is valued enough for it's curation to be funded. One
researcher or even a small team are unlikely to produce a sufficient volume
of work for this to happen. It usually only happens on an institutional
level when the data becomes a significant asset of the institution(s) e.g.

There are two main hurdles that prevent critical mass being reached:

1)Data compatability: One person will have interest in producing the
ultimate phylogeny of a major group whilst another is doing a pragmatic
floristic treatment of the group in a region. Both may put their data on the
web but their is no way for them to merge that data or for some one to see
all that data presented in a different context.

2) Ownership is very important: People need to be seen to have produced a
great treatment of a specific group. It is not enough to just do it - it has
to be seen to be done.

To sum it up: Competition is seen as a good thing and cooperation as a bad
thing. You get more kudos and therefore more chance of
funding/promotion/tenure if you go it alone and make a name for yourself.

We could define some easy to follow templates for people compiling data sets
and we could have a central repository that these can be version controlled
  and backed up in but we don't.

The question of why we don't do it is a far bigger one than the question of
how to actually do it in practice.

I don't know what other peoples thoughts are on this so I would be
interested to hear.

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