More GBIF questions (was: ITIS)

Nico Mario Franz nmf2 at CORNELL.EDU
Sat Jun 26 00:13:29 CDT 2004

In this discussion, let's have as always some room for the "wouldn't it be
nice?" and "why can't we just?" and "the internet revolution for taxonomy
is coming!" calls. But let's also not forget why we can have this
discussion here on Taxacom. Since 1992, *someone* - I actually (and this
is my point) don't know who - must have maintained this site, not only
with passion (see quotes above), but also with some socio-economic model
that seems to work well enough to instill that trust in us to post here
more often than on the many other sites which may have come and gone.

The print publication process, as wisely "ratified" by the ICZN and ICBN,
together with the scientific publishers and library and museum systems,
already has such a socio-economic, trust-instilling model in place. The
Codes also know why. The Principle of Priority means in essence that in
order to understand the taxonomic legacy and ultimately nature, we can't
just cut off those chains of communication that were initiated hundreds of
years ago and continue to be prolonged today. It makes no sense in terms
of harvesting efforts, and flies in the face of any respectable theory of
reference. So taxonomy, per Codes, per societal approaches to benefitting
from science, and per philosophy of language, needs a long-term
sustainable socio-ecomonic model to work and progress.

The print publication process has such a model, more or less. It just so
happens that in this process, we scientist are mostly pushed around by the
publishing industry. Although we do have Codes, we've never (to my
knowledge) succeeded at building a viable taxonomic enterprise. That just
doesn't seem to come naturally to us. How much do we pay the Index
Kewensis or the Zoological Record to do what they've done since the 1860s?
Again, I don't know for sure myself, and to the extent that this applies
to others, it's my point. We're the only creators of work, yet very poor

With the coming of age of internet publishing, the balance between
publishers and scientists may have shifted even more away from us. We seem
to have true difficulties even conceiving a socio-economic model that
would meet the long-term sustainability requirements that our own
discipline - taxonomy - has always come with.

Whether consensus classification or an interactive, distributed platform
for exchanging views about taxonomic concepts; I think it's worth
pondering that a central task for taxonomy will be to scratch and claw and
get that power back we so absentmindedly hand over at the time of signing
off our rights to publishers. Yay, I got this publication out! Oops, I
guess now Elsevier owns it. And I wonder why they also have enough cash to
put it on-line for years and years...

Taxonomists have conceeded so much power in the publishing process that at
the moment only publishers and a few (perhaps governmental, perhaps
private, rarely museums) have the sort of economic oomph that's needed to
create a sustainable on-line platform for taxonomy. In my view it's much
less important how that platform looks like than it is to know that
someone who "does business" can make it last. If it'll last, then it makes
sense for taxonomy to puts its legacy there, and continue it. If it won't
last, of well, I guess my revision will land in old, may unfair, yet save

As a strategy, we're unlikely to regain that power without giving up some
of our ideas and technology to the on-line providers. Those ideas just
might give them the edge over competitors.

I just thought it might be refreshing in light of our track-record with
socio-economic models for taxonomy, to basically look at ourselves as
consultants to the real players at this point. They're the ones who now
carry the legacy. We have big mouths and small wallets. Our wish-lists for
taxonomy should be long enough to pay respect to these forces, and honest
enough to see that if we want to reshape taxonomy on-line, our
publications, including GUIDs, ought to come with a money-back guarantee.


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