[Taxacom] Who uses biodiversity data and why? GBIF Response, Part 1

Meredith A. Lane mlane at gbif.org
Mon Dec 4 11:53:54 CST 2006

Rod Page noted in this thread on 24 Nov 2006 that he hoped that GBIF are 
reading it. Our answer is "yes, with great interest." We are always glad 
to see discussions of this type occurring within the community, and hope 
in turn that many more people, who have not made their views on this 
thread known via this forum, are also reading it.

As noted by Bob Mesinov on 25 Nov, the thread "has begun to wander," and 
so we call the attention of Taxacom readers back to particular questions 
raised and comment on them, with a nod of appreciation to Donat Agosti, 
Arthur Chapman, Rob Guralnick, Wolfgang Lorenz, Rod Page, Tom Moritz and 
David Shorthouse for their earlier contributions.

The three topic areas we address in the following three  messages are:

1.  Are primary data on species localities in fact used to make better 
global conservation policy and resource management choices?

2.  Are "global" primary species occurrence data useful for a "local" 
conservation policy or resource management choices?

3. Why should so many people work so hard to achieve universal access to 
universal biodiversity data?

To those readers who would prefer to read the four parts of this 
response as a single document, please see 

The title question to this thread: "Who uses biodiversity data and why?" 
stemmed from a quote in an earlier Taxacom entry in the thread "GBIF 
data." The quote concerned was from Matt Ball's article in GeoWorld in 
August of 2005 
(http://www.geoplace.com/uploads/featurearticle/0508em.asp): "Free and 
open access to the world's biodiversity data through the collaborative 
medium of the Web is an important tool for the sustainable stewardship 
of Earth. Unlocking such data will lead to much better policy and 
resource-management choices locally, regionally and globally". The 
questions based on this quote that ensued exhibited concern that the 
statement (whether using either the original "unlocking" or the proposed 
substitute "using") was too sweeping, particularly with regard to 1) 
such data being useful at the global level, and 2) that 
globally-available data are useful in local conservation or resource 
management decisions.

Before directly addressing these questions (in the messages that 
follow), let us first set out an important point: No responsible 
conservation or resource-management decision at any scale is ever made 
by looking at a compilation of raw data (from whatever source), for the 
obvious reason that data in and of themselves do not an intelligent 
conservation decision make. Decision-makers themselves, we would venture 
to say, virtually never look at compilations of raw data, nor should 
they. Data need to be passed through the filter of well-selected 
analytical routines to be turned into information that can be 
thoughtfully interpreted by human beings, who then can base a 
recommendation upon that interpretation. It is to be hoped that the 
political decision about the conservation action that is in turn based 
on that recommendation will be an intelligent one, or at least more 
intelligent than a decision based on "information" that is not based on 

Universal availability and access to biodiversity data /will/ bring 
benefits to science and, yes, to the sustainable stewardship of global 
biodiversity resources -- one locale at a time. After all, the globe is 
but a compilation of separate locales, just as a dataset is a 
compilation of separate data points. An analysis combines and filters 
various datasets, a conservation recommendation may call upon one or 
more iterpretation of one to several analyses. The chain of events that 
lead to conservation decisions that are more intelligent than they might 
otherwise be begins with data. GBIF does not analyze, does not 
interpret, does not recommend, does not decide. What it does do is 
encourage the digitization and enable the sharing of primary 
biodiversity data universally, in the firm conviction that a highly rich 
data compilation with coverage that is as deep and broad as can be 
constructed will indeed contribute both to conservation policy at the 
global level  as well as to local conservation choices around the globe.

-- /Meredith A. Lane/, PhD
/*mlane at gbif.org <mailto:mlane at gbif.org>*/
Public & Scientific Liaison
Global Biodiversity Information Facility
GBIF Secretariat
tel: +45 3532 1470
direct: +45 3532 1484
mobile: +45 2875 1484
fax: +45 3532 1480

More information about the Taxacom mailing list