Taxonomists and Users: two species that rarely meet

Doug Yanega dyanega at UCR.EDU
Tue Apr 25 09:24:02 CDT 2006

>I always was surprised to see that both users and taxonomists constantly
>and almost obstinately fail to communicate. This text should shed some
>light on this situation. I dont think it is a 'final' text, so new ideas
>and hints are always welcomed.

There is one major portion of the "impediment" you omit in your
discussion that is, in a way, a circular problem. Namely, many museum
curators are either taxonomic specialists, or not taxonomists at all.
They are, in fact, "users" themselves, and cannot keep track of
*every* taxon in their collection. In the absence of a single,
updated list of all known species AND synonyms, therefore, there are
virtually no two museums in existence that have all the shared taxa
within them placed under the same taxon names. This makes the
retrieval of information *from* museum collections extremely
inefficient; if a request for data on taxon X is sent out, the
responses will include some false positives and many false negatives
- curators who believe they possess taxon X when they actually do
not, and others who don't think they have it when they actually do.
Since collections are a major source of data for taxonomists, the
problem is circular; until and unless all museum curators have
instant access to all extant taxonomic information (and unless this
information is trustworthy), the data coming *out* of museums are
going to be filled with errors, thus rendering the extant taxonomic
information UNtrustworthy.

This aspect of the impediment emphasizes the need for making
authoritative checklists and keys available online, as well as the
pitfall of making museum specimen data available without either
authoritative identifications or at *least* a standard classification.

In sympathetic exasperation,

Doug Yanega        /Dept. of Entomology         /Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521-0314
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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