[Taxacom] encylopedia of life

Fabian Haas fhaas at icipe.org
Tue May 15 00:34:21 CDT 2007

Hi Richard,

some truth in your words, especially the disorganised state of the
taxonomists as a group (if we can speak of them as group :-)  )

What I still not understand is, why we expect the contents provider to
work for free? We dont expect the programmers to do so, and concerning
the programmers we could make the same point on improved visibility,
reputation etc. We also dont expect doctors to work for free. We also
dont expect a mechanic to work for free. We also dont expect a baker to
work for free. But we always expect taxonomist to use their spare time
to ...

While I think funding actual research is not on the EoL at all, and
probably should not be, I truly believe that those doing the contents
should also be able to find some benefits on their accounts. What do I
tell students in taxonomy: That they will have the pleasure and honour
to work on community projects for free and will have great recognition,
but please care about you living yourself?!

Do I miss something essential? Or what is it that I dont understand?


Richard Pyle wrote:
> Note:  I started writing this when I got up this morning, but got
> sidetracked for the whole day.  Now that I come back, I see there has been
> much more discussion, so some of my points below have already been addressed
> by others.  But here goes anyway...
> My PhD is in classical taxonomic research (i.e., with an emphasis on field
> work and alpha-level taxonomy). The reason it took me eleven years to
> complete that degree is that I've had a full-time job that does not directly
> support my taxonomic work (still true today). Most of my taxonomic research
> (pre- and post-graduate) has been conducted on my own time and/or on
> vacation time.  I have had some private support (mostly from documentary
> film projects and other non-traditional venues such as Esquire Magazine) to
> fund collecting in the field, but most of the expeditions (and almost all of
> the post-collecting work) have been paid out of my own pocket; and almost
> always on unsalaried time. I've submitted three major NSF proposals over the
> past few years -- all of them have received a majority of "excellent"
> ratings; none of them funded. Oh, and no, I am not personally wealthy -- my
> wife and I both work full-time, and we still live from paycheck to paycheck.
> Now, it may well be that I just suck as a taxonomist and/or grant writer
> (I'll leave that to my colleagues and grant reviewers to judge), but the
> point is that I think I'm in a better position than most to legitimately
> whine about inadequate funding to support basic taxonomic research.
> In that context, I would like to respectfully disagree with those who have
> commented that the EoL initiative should fund basic taxonomic research.
> Here's why:
> Let's suppose EoL earmarked 50% of it's total projected budget ($25M)
> towards raw taxonomic research.  We would increase taxonomic progress by
> $2.5M/year over the projected ten-year span that budget encompasses. But
> let's also suppose that halving the budget would also cut in half the extent
> to which the envisioned EoL infrastructure would support taxonomists in
> completing their work.
> Now, let's also suppose that $50M will, indeed, yield the envisioned suite
> of data access and content management tools over the next ten years. This
> means that every taxonomist with access to the internet would have
> essentially instant access to a VAST array of publications, images, specimen
> data records, and other data content.  "Workbench" tools developed through
> EoL would help organize all of this content in a way that best makes sense
> to your own work habits and particular field of interest ("MyEoL"), and
> allow seamless and instant sharing of data and images among collaborators
> and colleagues. Just factoring time spent in the library and at the
> photocopy machine alone would probably work out to 10-20 hours saved per
> year for a typical active taxonomist.
> Now add to that time spent hunting down specimen data from Museums around
> the world (whose catalogs are rife with synonym identifications,
> misspellings, etc.), plus time spent transcribing data from field notebooks,
> publications and/or datasets of others into your own format, plus time spent
> formatting manuscripts for publication, plus time spent building maps of
> species distributions and/or geo-referencing specimens collected in the days
> before GPS, plus a wide variety of time spent doing tasks that do not
> capitalize directly on your expertise as a taxonomist, and for which ideas
> have been proposed as EoL tools.  Let's say these collective "conveniences"
> would save the average taxonomist 20-30 hours/year (conservatively).
> Let's also assume an average salary of $10/hour for a professional
> taxonomist's time (seems fair from my perspective, given what I am currently
> paid to do taxonomy!). That's an average EoL savings of
> $200-$300/year/taxonomist.  Let's further assume that 3/4 of the 20,000
> estimated taxonomists have access to the internet, and can put EoL to work
> for them.  Now we're looking at somewhere in the range of $3-4.5M/year
> increase in taxonomic progress. Even if we cut this in half (assuming we
> could achieve half of this benefit with $25M), we're still roughly on par
> with a direct cash pay-out of $2.5M/year. But the thing is: whereas $25
> would run out in 10 years, the increase to taxonomic productivity would
> perpetuate forever.
> And that's just the beginning.  Suppose, for example, EoL facilitated the
> development of something along the lines of my concept of "TurboTaxonomy"
> (http://mailman.nhm.ku.edu/pipermail/taxacom/2004-August/009274.html); this
> might increase the number of active biologists who could function as
> practicing taxonomists substantially (with corresponding increase in overall
> annual taxonomic progress).  And then, of course, there is the public
> awareness advantages, as well as various other things already touched on
> earlier in this thread.
> And I haven't even mentioned what I see as the single LARGEST impact to
> supporting taxonomic research of all:  FINALLY getting some sense of
> cohesion among the otherwise utterly disorganized and uncoordinated nature
> of our collective community (see multiple TAXACOM threads on this issue).
> Even if you find all of the above unpersuasive from a strictly economical
> perspective, the argument is moot anyway.  The reason the money exists at
> all is to build the infrastructure -- it's simply not on the table for
> taxonomic research in the first place -- no matter how much we whine about
> it.
> Finally...if EoL were to embark on this initiative with the intent of
> creating 1.8 million "pages" of HTML-formatted species data, each
> hand-crafted/authored by individual taxonomists one at a time...it would be
> dead in the water (even if it involved Wikipedia-like editing and versioning
> capabilities).  Much more likely, these species "pages" would be dynamically
> assembled from vast indexes of biological datasets and electronic documents
> (including scanned and OCR'd historical paper-based literature).  The
> contributions to content by the world's taxonomists would not be in the form
> of *costing* them time; but rather *gaining* them time by providing software
> tools that allowed them to do the work they normally do (digitizing
> datasets, indexing literature, formatting manuscripts, populating
> bibliographies, building annotated synonymies, creating distribution maps,
> etc.) with much greater efficiency, while simultaneously allowing them to
> expose their new content to the EoL automatically (if they choose to do so).
> The EoL content would thus emerge from the collective efforts already
> undertaken by the world's biologists and biological data managers -- except,
> of course, that those people would be doing their work more efficiently than
> they do now.
> There is no doubt in my mind that the key to EoL's success lies in its
> ability provide necessary incentives to the right people to contribute
> content.  It's just that I think direct cash payments to taxonomists in
> exchange for their content is an exceptionally inefficient (and
> insufficient) incentive mechanism.
> Aloha,
> Rich
> P.S. Full disclosure:  I am an adviser (of sorts) to the EoL initiative, and
> they did pay my travel expenses to attend a workshop to discuss the
> technical side of its implementation. But if they offered me money to do
> taxonomic work, I would send it back and ask instead that they use it to
> make my job that much easier. My time is worth more money than they could
> possibly offer.
> Richard L. Pyle, PhD
> Database Coordinator for Natural Sciences
> Department of Natural Sciences, Bishop Museum
> 1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
> Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
> email: deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
> http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org/staff/pylerichard.html
> _______________________________________________
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> Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> http://mailman.nhm.ku.edu/mailman/listinfo/taxacom


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