[Taxacom] Proposed ICZN amendments on electronic publishing

Roderic Page r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
Thu Dec 11 13:42:49 CST 2008

GenBank doesn't have to worry in part because their data are mirrored  
in Japan and Europe (so it isn't entirely centralised), and because  
the data is freely available for bulk download (and terrabytes are  
downloaded each month), even if those three centres go up in smoke,  
the data is massively replicated in labs across the planet.  Lots of  
copies keeps stuff safe.



On 11 Dec 2008, at 18:08, Doug Yanega wrote:

> Jim Croft wrote:
>> Making it cheap does not make it robust.
>> One of the points I was trying to make was that the volume of data is
>> or will be so huge that it will be impossible to verify it all at  
>> each
>> technology migration point and glitches, once introduced may not be
>> detected an will be propagated through future iterations.  It was not
>> perfect in the olden days and the equivalent were errors of
>> translation and transcription - but the generation times were much
>> much longer and there was always likely to be an 'original' somewhere
>> to go back to.
>> As for the leadership, wisdom and vision of managerialist economic
>> rationalism forcing libraries into discarding knowledge and the
>> foundation soul of the planet, what can I say?
> I've been holding back on this thread, to see if and when someone
> would raise the most obvious counterargument to all this, but as it
> has not yet happened...here I go again:
> No one who deposits sequence data in GenBank's digital archives seems
> worried at all that their sequences won't still be available in 200
> years. Lots of those sequences have not been, and possibly never will
> be, printed on paper. How can all these scientists be so calm, so
> unflustered, at having BILLIONS OF DOLLARS WORTH OF DATA
> (representing the entire life's work of thousands of researchers)
> that exists *solely* in digital format? If *any* of the arguments
> that taxonomy has to be on paper to be secure in perpetuity had *any*
> value, then those exact same arguments would ALSO apply to GenBank -
> and yet, GenBank exists, and no one worries about the lack of
> hardcopy archives for all that absolutely irreplaceable information.
> Why? In what *possible* way could digital taxonomic data be any
> different from digital sequence data, so that the latter is secure
> and the former is not?
> Because GenBank is a central archive (and it helps that depositing
> sequence data there is mandatory to get things in print).
> If taxonomy goes the same route, then we never have to worry about
> our data, the same way GenBank never has to worry.
> Yes, if there are a million digital copies of a document but they are
> all on people's desktop computers, or in scattered independent
> library archives which might not overlap (or might not be truly
> permanent), then those copies *might* all become untraceable,
> destroyed, or unreadable at some point. But is that *really* the best
> we are willing to aim for as a community? Basically, this whole
> "debate" on whether taxonomy could go digital and still be secure in
> perpetuity boils down to people abandoning (or neglecting) the notion
> that we could ever be like GenBank. Why *can't* we? Is taxonomy
> really, truly SO mired in the dark ages that we cannot have a
> permanent central digital archive with mandatory deposition of
> documents, and - accordingly - never have to COMPEL taxonomists to
> publish on paper ever again? If it's SOLELY a question of "Well,
> GenBank has guaranteed money to run their archive, but taxonomy has
> no such guaranteed funding, so we can't have a guaranteed permanent
> archive" then why can't we just join forces with GenBank, and arrange
> it so GenBank not only stores all the DNA sequences of life forms on
> this planet, but all the original descriptions OF those life forms?
> How would that NOT be a "win-win" scenario?
> We have an example that shows exactly how we can solve our problem.
> We just need to follow that example; the wheel has already been
> invented, so why continue arguing over whether we can (or should)
> invent the wheel?
> Sincerely,
> -- 
> Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research  
> Museum
> Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
> phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not  
> UCR's)
>              http://cache.ucr.edu/~heraty/yanega.html
>   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
>         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82
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Roderic Page
Professor of Taxonomy
Graham Kerr Building
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

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