[Taxacom] eol in nature [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Fri Sep 7 03:49:09 CDT 2007

I appreciate your points on this Jim, but I also think it's important for
us, as scientists, to recognize that these media releases aren't targeted at
us.  In my mind, EoL is much, much more than just cross-linking names.  It's
about cross-linking (and intelligently organizing) huge amounts of
information.  Most of this information already exists, and hence might be
considered "regurgitated".  But a great deal of it either does not exist in
an easily searchable digital form, or if it does exist as such, it is so
widely distributed and disconnected as to be excruciating and time-consuming
to organise and access.  But a lot of this is too subtle and complex to
communicate to a lay public.  To get the key point across, it's often
necessary to over-simplify.  The details may be "iffy", but the fundamental
message is (more or less) on target.  And the fundamental message is the
only bit that most people will remember.

Scientists are excellent communicators when exchanging ideas and information
with other scientists.  But for the most part, we collectively suck at
trying to explain these things to the general public. Although I haven't
seen the film myself yet, I understand that "A Flock of Dodos"
(http://www.flockofdodos.com/) makes this point very clearly.

So...I guess my point is, the informatics issue goes much deeper than simply
sorting out names and synonomies, and the people working on the informatics
know this full well.  But the very act of trying to explain the difference
between a "taxon name" and a "taxon concept" to the vast majority of people
"out there" (you know -- the ones who elect our leaders and ultimately
direct national priorities) is very likely a lost cause -- at least at this
point in history.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Jim Croft [mailto:jrc at anbg.gov.au] 
> Sent: Thursday, September 06, 2007 7:39 PM
> To: Richard Pyle
> Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] eol in nature [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]
> What you describe below Rich is the Holy Grail of biodiversity
> informatics: the magic universal temporal and spatial 
> resolution of names and taxonomic concepts.  We all want it.
> A problem I have with the EOL rhetoric to date is the 
> embedded glib simplicity that by presenting people with lists 
> of cross referenced names they will be able to get what they 
> want/need.  To the non-taxonomists it sounds so plausible, 
> but for those who are still lookng for this magic bullet it 
> smells of snake oil.
> What I would like EOL (and other) taxonomy marketeers to say 
> is: "this name/concept thing is a *BIG* issue, its legacy is 
> crippling our domain, it is going to take a lot of work, time 
> and resources to sort out and implement, both in information 
> structure and data content, so in the meantime you are going 
> to have to make do with the ambiguous implicit taxonomy 
> implied by the names that we give you - it is not the truth, 
> but it will do for the moment. Heck, it has not done too bad 
> a job for the last quarter of a millenium, a few more years 
> is not going to kill you."
> The concern I have is that the PR so far implies that mapping 
> synonyms to accepted names will tell all and enable all.  I 
> am worried that the real information management problem is 
> going to left behind as people get carried away with the 
> hype, the facade and pom-poms before there is anything to show.
> (I will leave the interesting matter of perceived sugar 
> coating taxonomy for special interest groups for another discussion :)
> jim 
> > Taking your example of linking a Protonym to a subsequent 
> name usage, 
> > I'm getting tired of having to make this association multiple times 
> > (once for Bishop Museum's database, once for PBIN/NBII, 
> once for ITIS, 
> > once for Species 2000, once for the Catalog of Fishes, once for 
> > FishBase, once for GBIF, once for ZooBank....etc., etc.)  I want an 
> > infrastructure that allows me to do this ONCE PERIOD, and 
> have every 
> > dataset of relevance know about it automatically.  The tools and 
> > protocols that TDWG and GBIF and EoL (each with their respective 
> > roles) are all aiming for, and getting closer to, will 
> allow for the 
> > creation of such an infrastructure. One of the mantras of the 
> > All-Species Foundation was "Once digitized, always available".  The 
> > point being, we have been wasting LOTS of time repeating the same 
> > effort over and over again, simply because our digitization 
> efforts have not been adequately coordinated.
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