[Taxacom] from a user

Daniel Janzen djanzen at sas.upenn.edu
Mon Jun 19 09:07:19 CDT 2006

Just a comment from the sidelines, from a non-taxonomist intense user 
of, and depender on, the abilities of taxonomists in both the animal 
and plant world.  In addition to who did the det (or synonomy) and 
the date, the field that would be of most use to me would be a 
comment field that, in a few words, explained or documented the basis 
of the det (Jim Croft's comment got very close to this): e.g., 
compared with the holotype, run through so-and-so's key, compared 
with the figure in such and such a field guide, out-of-your-head, 
compared with identified specimens in herbarium x, 
so-and-so-told-you-that-is-the-correct-name, etc.    Doing this in 
detail could of course become a time consuming nightmare of 
subjectivity and non-interoperability between places, taxonomists and 
collections, but it sure would help us users who are tracking the 
names for "our" organisms trying to get it "right".  I and other 
users of simple lists of things in a place or circumstance probably 
would ignore such a field, but when we are hot on the trail of trying 
to get the right name for a particular bug in hand (playing a 
parataxonomist's or identifier's role specimen by specimen) it sure 
would help.  This is particularly true when I go to a collection (or 
web DB) with my specimen and try to figure out the right name to 
apply without having to bother a taxonomist, or to get it set up to 
where the taxonomist just has to deny or confirm my attempt at a det. 
Cluttering up collections with jillions of small paper notes with 
this kind of documentation probably would not be useful, but tipping 
it into an optional field in a DB from here on out might not be too 
much clutter.  Incidentally, while on this topic, let me add that 
checklists for a region or a higher taxon worked up by a taxonomist 
are indeed extremely useful tools to me, a user, but what drives one 
insane is not knowing the reason why particular species names are 
placed in synonomy (or elevated from previous synonymies), a bit of 
information that indeed was in the taxonomist's head at the moment of 
doing the synonomy (or elevation).

Now I go back to lurking.

Thanks to all of you - without your efforts it would all be hopeless.

Dan Janzen, University of Pennsylvania, djanzen at sas.upenn.edu

>Date: Mon, 19 Jun 2006 08:07:59 -0500
>From: Richard Jensen <rjensen at saintmarys.edu>
>To: Paul Kirk <p.kirk at cabi.org>
>Organization: Saint Mary's College
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>Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Privacy laws and Science [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED] [
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>Paul Kirk wrote:
>>  The quality of an identification can be assigned a value based on 
>>the competence of the identifier at the point the identification 
>>was made and the difficulty factor for the taxon identified.
>But this is exactly the problem - who makes these calls?  Who is in 
>a position to decide the "competence of the identifier at the point 
>the identification was made"?  I will admit that I have a somewhat 
>different perception of some species now, compared to when I was 
>conducting my dissertation research. However, I have also observed 
>that over 30 years later (when borrowing some of the same specimens 
>a second time) I still agree with my original annotation.
>I certainly would be uncomfortable establishing a "competency" 
>rating for Josephine Taxonomist based on the stage in her career at 
>which she made a determination. How do you propose we go about doing 
>this?  Should we create a committee of experts for each "group" that 
>can evaluate competency (in which case a great many groups will have 
>a committee of one, or no committee)?  I know from experience that 
>experts will often disagree with novices, yet continued work proves 
>the novice to have been right.  This means that the competency 
>rating would have to be upgraded or downgraded depending on what the 
>future reveals about someone's ids.
>Dick J
>Richard J. Jensen              | tel: 574-284-4674
>Department of Biology      | fax: 574-284-4716
>Saint Mary's College         | e-mail: rjensen at saintmarys.edu
>Notre Dame, IN 46556    | http://www.saintmarys.edu/~rjensen
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