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

Paul van Rijckevorsel dipteryx at FREELER.NL
Thu Feb 10 10:50:11 CST 2005

From: Richard Pyle <deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG>
> Do you feel that the benefits of the internet outweigh the costs?

That is a big question, and you should not be asking me.
Certainly the value of a well-ordered and maintained database is enormous.
But somebody has to put in a lot of work to get there, and as Nico Mario
Franz states it is an open question if this is always the best use of
whoever is best qualified to do the work. Not to mention the question of who
will be paying him.
* * *

> It's certainly not true yet, but none of this stuff really exists yet.
What the uBio folks (and the TCS folks and the LinneanCore folks and the
GBIF folks and the TDWG folks) are trying to do is develop the system that
serves the functions that I, and David, and Mike and Martin, and others have
been trying to articluate.  The purpose of these emails is to discuss a
vision, and discuss how to implement that vision.  If it already existed the
way we wanted to, there would be less need to write long emails to Taxacom
about it.  But it doesn't exist yet, and the database compilers you alluded
to are among the strongest advocates of creating it so that it does exist.
It can't suddenly exist spontaneously.  It has to be created --

Yes, I quite believe this last item!
* * *

> There are two realms:  the infrastructure realm, and the content realm.
The infrastructure consists of the data standards and mechanisms of
information exchange, integration, and presentation, so that one need not be
a computer database whiz to be able to surgically extract the information of
interest from the content realm.  The content realm currently exists as a
patchwork of databases, each developed independantly of the others, each
with greater or lesser amounts of validation, verification, scrutiny, and
focused purpose.  The infrastructure and the content need to be developed
concurrently, and optimally would be developed in specific response to
user needs.  Forums like Taxacom are ideal for discussing and debating the
nature of the taxonomic community's specific needs.

Mulitple users means multiple entry by those users, from lots of different
angles. It seems to me that content will be the driving force in determining
form ("form follows function" ;-)). On the other hand we have been
hearing for years about nifty packages that will allow users to conveniently
enter data. This has led to all kinds of databases, with varying degrees of
compatibility. It seems to be going on and on. What was sold yesterday as
the ultimate answer to all databasing problems is hopelessly obsolete today.
Any new "standard" launched seems to add just one more war between database
makers ;-)
* * *

> One of the wonderful things about electronic information technology is
that once one person puts all that effort into developing the
infrastructure, it's available for everyone else to use (assuming an
open-source paradigm). Once one taxonomist identifies the original
description of a taxon name, and creates a complete bibliographic index of
all subsequent uses of that name, no one else ever has to repeat the same

To quite a large extent, the latter is true of a good monograph, as well.
* * *

> Bill Eshmeyer devoted several decades of his professional life to creating
the electronic Catalog of fishes, and the ichthyological world is a MUCH,
MUCH better place because of it.

Obviously invaluable, but likely content-driven in design?
* * *

> Then, as is the case with many discussions on Taxacom, we ultimately agree
on the fundamental issues -- we're just separated by a common language.

Actually it was the blithe treatment of "vernacular names" that got to me.
This is very well if there are standardized common names, as for the birds
of NA, or even common names (in widespread use), but vernacular names as
such are a terrible morass. Actually the 4 million vernacular names does not
sound like a bad estimate for Angiosperms alone. At 250k-400k Angiosperm
species, that is an average of 10-16 vernacular names per species. A major
plant species will easily have hundreds, if not thousands, of vernacular

Nobody should think of going there, not without making a well-crafted plan
first (and finding lots of resources).

All best,

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