Hymenoptera name server added to Taxonomic Search Engine

Roderic Page r.page at BIO.GLA.AC.UK
Sun Jun 5 03:32:22 CDT 2005

On 4 Jun 2005, at 16:30, Doug Yanega wrote:

>> I've added the Hymenoptera Name Server
>> (http://atbi.biosci.ohio-state.edu:210/hymenoptera/
>> nomenclator.home_page ) to the Taxonomic Search Engine
>> (http://darwin.zoology.gla.ac.uk/~rpage/portal/ ).
>> This adds the ability to search some 180,000 hymenopteran names.
> But only using criteria in that database itself, which - as in all
> such cases - means that your search engine is limited by the
> resources you're linking to. For example, the HNS lacks a great many
> synonyms of the valid names in the database, including one I searched
> for recently, and could not find in a single web-based resource (it
> turned up by accident when I was thumbing through a reprint two days
> later).

Yes, but this is trivially true -- I can't find names if they aren't in
those databases.

> I think the existence of taxonomic tools on the web induces an
> undesirably false confidence - we are a LONG way from having a solid
> coverage of the nomenclature online, and no one seems to be up-front
> about what percentage of names in their group they actually have
> gotten into their database. That is, there should be BIG RED WARNINGS
> on these sites saying "This database includes only an estimated 30%
> of the published names for this taxon" and so forth. True, this will
> mostly lead casual users astray, while *taxonomists* are aware that a
> failed search doesn't necessarily mean that a name doesn't exist (but
> even then they don't know just how much of the taxasphere has been
> omitted from the search, and this *would* be nice to know).
> --

I'm hoping you are not suggesting that it would be better to have no
taxonomic tools online.

Yes, these databases are incomplete, but I don't claim completeness. I
simply want to provide a tool to query those databases that are
available in a simple fashion.

I agree that would it would be desirable to have some indication of
completeness, although this requires that (a) we know how many names
exist for each group (I suggest that most estimates are probably highly
inaccurate), and (b) that it is meaningful to assign a value for
completeness to an entire database. For example, Norm Johnson
characterised the coverage of names in Hymenopteran Name Server as "...
irregular: some taxa are as complete as I've been able to make them
(e.g., the superfamilies Ceraphronoidea, Proctotrupoidea, and
Platygastroidea), others are more limited (the ants have the original
combinations and current valid names), and I just haven't gotten around
to yet others." I suspect all databases of any size have similarly
patchy coverage.

I am all too painfully aware that our online databases are incomplete,
but this is not a reason for not trying to make what names are
available as accessible as possible. My research requires access to
names NOW. Imagine if Internet search engines such as Google decided
not to make their search engine available because they hadn't crawled
the entire Web and so they couldn't be sure to have found everything.

I suggest that we spend less energy worrying over what people might or
might not do with the names, or the results of searches for names, and
focus on getting the names into electronic form and making them
accessible. That we are still woefully short of a reasonably complete
list of names is little short of a scandal.



Professor Roderic D. M. Page
Editor, Systematic Biology
Graham Kerr Building
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QP
United Kingdom

Phone:    +44 141 330 4778
Fax:      +44 141 330 2792
email:    r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
web:      http://taxonomy.zoology.gla.ac.uk/rod/rod.html
reprints: http://taxonomy.zoology.gla.ac.uk/rod/pubs.html

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