[Taxacom] Proposed ICZN amendments on electronic publishing

Paul Kirk p.kirk at cabi.org
Fri Dec 5 08:36:59 CST 2008

I see the 't' word (tricorder) so I must respond.

We are still thinking of a future in the two dimensional world of
digital sheets of paper instead of the highly atomized data we should be
aiming for and equally of the past when we read digital representations
of the real sheets of paper rather than working with the atomized
content (with the pages images in the background somewhere just in case
they are needed).

And whilst on the subject ... peer review ...

Consider the time when your virtual expedition makes use of a
parataxonomist somewhere exotic (?) who collects a living organism,
produces a high resolution three dimensional image from which you derive
a description, sequences the entire genome which you analyse and,
eureka, you have an undescribed species. In your working environment you
give your reasons for it's novelty and press the button marked publish
(having previously registered the name with whateverbank is
appropriate). But then, at the speed of light, your new species is
instantly synonymized everywhere it is considered relevant by automated
systems which compare you description with everything that is known of
the parent taxon of your new species and all it's nearest relatives and
come to a different conclusion (ditto with the molecular data). Well,
what a downer, one strike, and it's three strikes and your out ... and
are moved to the marketing department of the pharmaceutical company
(which employs you) to sell anti aging cream or whatever. Thats the sort
of peer review that's possible when everything is joined up. It's no
different really from what happens now it's just that the synonymy is
much faster.

Regards, and have a good weekend,

Paul M. (not James T.) Kirk

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of tyler
Sent: 05 December 2008 13:15
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Proposed ICZN amendments on electronic publishing

Jim Croft writes:
 > This is something we can probably keep in our sights with textual  >
information, but when it comes to digital images and other  > multimedia
there is no equivalent of ASCII and we are already in  > *deep* trouble.

I don't know why there is any difference here. ASCII works because it is
well documented and viewable with any number of text editors. jpg is
also well documented and viewable with any number of applications.
Same for gif, tiff, png, ps and others. We're only in deep trouble if
we've committed our images to an undocumented proprietary format.

 > On Fri, Dec 5, 2008 at 2:50 PM, Richard Pyle  wrote:
 > > when we move beyond binary computers, there is no doubt in my  > >
mind that there will be ample opportunity to translate the  > >
binary-encoded information into whatever the next fundamental  > >
computer information system is.
 > You are quite right... sort of... with any new technology there  >
will be a mechanism to migrate from the existing to the new - to do  >
otherwise would be a suicidal business decision. The problem is,  >
because it is a business model, they will offer the the minimum  >
migration they can get away with.

Which means we need to become more discerning, and demanding, when it
comes to accepting new software. If we insist on using software that
allows for unrestricted import and export to open document formats, then
the suicidal business model will be the one that requires using
undocumented proprietary formats to take full advantage of the features
of a program.

Everything else is manageable. The actual format we use isn't that
important, as long as it's an open format (www.openformats.org). 

 > Thus your solution will only work if you migrate (and test)  >
*everything* - every time. The reality is (or has been) that in  > every
migration process some things get overlooked and forgotten  > surviving
in the old format until one fine day, 'sorry this format  > is no longer

Open formats don't depend on being officially supported by anyone. If
microsoft decided that it no longer wants to support ascii, or Adobe
decides that it doesn't want to support pdf, we can still use those
formats with other tools. 

And we don't really need to migrate from one format to the next each
time a new technology is developed. Who knows, maybe one day we'll go to
a library website to use their pdf viewer, the way we now go to a
library building to use their microfiche system. That wouldn't be as
good as having access to all the documents in some hyperlinked format
viewable in the field on our tricorders, but it's still an improvement
over physical books in terms of accessibility.

 > > The issue of "what's important" and what gets perpetuated is, in  >
> all respects, the same for both electronically encoded  > >
information and ink-on-paper information. If books are important,  > >
they will be maintained and cared-for and perpetuated in  > >
libararies. If e-documents are important, they will be maintained  > >
and cared-for and perpetuated in electronic archives.
 > I think there is a fundamental difference, and this that is the  >
contraction of time scales in the digital world.  The paper just sits  >
there and no-one has to (or should) offer an a priori value judgment  >
of their importance; you will be able to come back in a couple of  >
centuries and make an assessment in that context.  

Only if you have unlimited space for archival storage. This is not
really the case anymore. At my old university, space is limited, and
hardcopy versions of journals that are available online are being
shipped offsite, or donated away entirely. On a personal level, when I
move I'm taking all my pdfs with me, but only a fraction of my books.
Hopefully I'll choose the right books to keep, but with pdfs I don't
choose at all.



Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing.
                                       --Wernher von Braun

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