More GBIF questions (was: ITIS)

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Thu Jun 24 10:21:59 CDT 2004

Thomas G. Lammers wrote:

> My point was that it should not be modified for ad hoc 
> purposes, for the convenience of a single user-group, but 
> rather on the basis of what is best for science as a whole.  
> Modifying the Code to accommodate "informatics"
> types is putting the cart before the horse: the informatics 
> types should modify THEIR procedures to bring them in line 
> with what taxonomists do and have done for years.

I understand where Tom's coming from here, but it can be taken to
extreme.  Throughout most of the history of taxonomy, taxonomists did
not use computers at all.  They did not do cladistic analyses.  They did
not do a lot of things that modern taxonomists do.  This is such a
complex subject that it's hard to distill the issue into a few concise
sentences, but I think it boils down to this:

The internet and related computing technology have evolved to the point
where a lot of work that taxonomists have traditionally spent a lot of
their time engaged in, can now be done much more quickly and
efficiently.  That potentially frees up a lot of taxonomists' time,
which they can spend concentrating on tasks that computers cannot do
effectively (like collecting specimens, and applying taxonomic insight).

I think that Doug's point of view is that we taxonomists have proven
ourselves to be such a cantankerous and fickle and eccentric lot, that
we are not, generally, predisposed to voluntary cooperate efforts (if we
were, we would have less need for Codes of scientific nomenclature in
the first place).  Doug can speak for himself on this, but from my
(many) earlier discussions with him on this topic, I think I understand
his perspective to be that taxonomists simply aren't likely to play
along with a system that inherently works to everyone's (science's)
advantage unless 1) they can see how it directly benefits THEM; and 2)
they are forced to by rules in the Code.  Doug sees (again, based on my
conversations with him) that by going straight for the brass ring in one
shot, we can demonstrate the maximum suite of benefits that
information/internet technology could offer to taxonomists, and
therefore win over enough converts to sustain Code-mandated rules (as
opposed to a rebellion against the Code).

To be perfectly honest, I wish/hope that Doug's approach would work,
because we wouldn't waste a lot of time getting to where we so obviously
could (and, in the opinion of almost everyone who really has thought
hard about it, SHOULD) be.  But in my own experience with taxonomy and
taxonomists, we tend to be skeptical folk, and only want to take one
baby step at a time; only taking the next baby step after we've been
convinced that the previous one was successful.

In any case, I think it's great that this thread keeps coming up on this
list periodically.  Each time it has a different flavor; and each time
the "smell" of real change seems stronger (or more pungent, depending on
your perspective).


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

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