names vs. "names" (was: Names for BioDiv Informatics)

Paul van Rijckevorsel dipteryx at FREELER.NL
Wed Feb 9 10:10:49 CST 2005

From: Dave Remsen <dremsen at MBL.EDU>
> Vernacular names are a primary gateway to
biological information by the majority of humanity.  A
well-defined vernacular concept provides the scientific
community with an opportunity to engage them  (We
conservatively estimate 4 million+ vernacular names).

> We have been advocating a layered informatics architecture
for some time now for the simple reason is that a.) it
works and b.) it might allow us to survive.

> I see at least three separate layers.  Starting at the

> 1. A generalized biological name service (NameBank or
something like it):  Broad enough to account for all forms
of an inclusive consensus names definition with sufficient
disambiguating attributes.  All scientific and vernacular
names, OTUs, objective synonymy.  There are millions of
these.   All attributes are known facts.   Start real
simple.  What are the minimum things we would all agree
on.  Stop there.  Draw line.  Build that.

Actually, this very strongly reminds me of an attitude all too often found
among the compilers of databases.
"Yes, we know this name will be erroneous. Yes, we realize that including it
in the database will perpetuate and propagate the error. However, if it was
once used in a book (even if in clear error) we are including it. We realize
this means the world will go to hell in a handbasket, but we don't care. As
long as as our database is 'complete' we are happy."

This "first layer" is the step where relevant information is excluded.
If too much information is excluded (i.e. just the minimum is recorded) the
database will have to be thrown out as error-riddled and unusable once it is
complete (but it won't be thrown out, it will be there forever as an excuse
never to do it right). I am beginning to despair of databases (unless built
from a solid taxonomic basis).

Paul van Rijckevorsel
Utrecht, NL

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