[Taxacom] iSpecies with Wikipedia

Mary Barkworth Mary at biology.usu.edu
Thu Mar 27 06:33:55 CDT 2008

I am not completely opposed to a consensus treatment but I am very
concerned about its becoming, not necessarily because of the beliefs of
those initiating or even working in all its IT aspects, an authoritarian
wall. Therefore please, from the start, discuss how decisions are going
to be made about changing parts of the consensus.  These would probably
need to be group-specific but they should be open and transparent. If
they are to be decided by some Council of Eminent Classifiers - selected
by themselves, it will be a wall and systematists will have another
impediment to content with. Granted, these comments are from the point
of view of someone working on a group, grasses, where there are many
many people working. I have also completed editing two volumes on
grasses for the Flora of North America series and am aware of the
problems created when one has to decide between one treatment and
another. In my case, the problem was partly that, with the length of
time the project took, some well argued new treatments came out when we
had a commitment to another person. We were able to make some
adjustments, but not all that might have been made. It also can be seen
as generating lots of questions (anyone wanting a research group,
contact me). So, if someone follows up, how are the adjustments going to
be made to your consensus treatment? The Manual of Grasses for North
America incorporates a few changes from the FNA treatment - and I am
sure that the next edition will need to accommodate more. Bluntly, I can
decide which to accept - and can tell people who ask why I have not
adopted theirs - (this is probably the first time some contributors and
critics of the FNA treatments are aware of this). How is your European
group make a decision? The committee is going to meet and decide? Let me
recommend a system somewhat similar to the Botanical Nomenclature
meetings with the additional requirement that people must provide
documentation of the need for a change that can be reviewed by anyone
interested in the group. The documentation could consist of links to
published papers or could be equally well documented and reviewed
"papers" on the Web - but the process MUST be open and transparent.
Otherwise it will be an impediment. An open and transparent system will
not ensure that "right" decisions are made - but it will make it easier
for those entering systematics to be heard and for those coping with
changes to understand why they are made.  


From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu on behalf of Charles Hussey
Sent: Thu 3/27/2008 4:15 AM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] iSpecies with Wikipedia

To Doug, Rod, Andy and others,

I would support the construction of a consensus, or management,
classification specifically to assist with resource discovery. With the
emergence of portals (GBIF, BioCASE, etc.) that return results from
dispersed datasets there is (at least to my mind) the requirement to
return consistent results and a consensus classification could help
achieve this. It would need to be fairly stable (even conservative) and
machine understandable. I guess there would also need to be a mechanism
for mapping other classifications in use to it.

There is an upcoming EU-funded project called PESI (A Pan-European
Species-Directories Infrastructure) http://eu-nomen.eu/pesi/ that will
be addressing this need (building a management classification) and so I
should be interested in hearing your views on the usefulness or
senselessness of this together with any hints, tips and pitfalls!

Best wishes,

Charles Hussey,

Science Data Co-ordinator,
Data and Digital Systems Team,
Library and Information Services,
Natural History Museum,
Cromwell Road,
London SW7 5BD
United Kingdom

Tel. +44 (0)207 942 5213
Fax. +44 (0)207 942 5559
e-mail c.hussey at nhm.ac.uk
Species Dictionary project: www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/ Nature Navigator:

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Doug Yanega
Sent: 26 March 2008 16:53
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] iSpecies with Wikipedia

Roderic Page wrote:

>  >>> and WikiSpecies:
>>>  Wikispecies is almost useless, and I don't want to make "blind
>>> links".
>>  How so? Do you think it is flawed, or just too incomplete?
>Flawed because it isn't clearly separated from Wikipedia (which has
>greater traction), has a bizarre classification, and is demonstrably

The "bizarre classification" problems one sees in Wikispecies reflect
two fundamental things: (1) Wikispecies, like Wikipedia, can only
present a SINGLE classification (no alternative schemes can be
incorporated except as footnotes), and (2) the classification must be a
ranked Linnaean hierarchy.

Taken together, those two things are inevitably going to lead to many,
many cases where the classification will not match either (a) the
present consensus classification of a certain clade (e.g., presently,
bees are classified as a monophyletic unranked taxon called
"Anthophila") or (b) the personal preferences of a given taxonomist or
group thereof (e.g., many folks now believe termites are not an Order
containing several families, but a single family within the Order

The other factor creating problems here is that few taxonomists actually
give the ENTIRE hierarchy for their organisms in their publications, and
this can cause conflicts between different portions of the hierarchy -
that is, someone revises the higher classification of some group, and
taxonomists working at lower levels are unaware of this change, and
propose a new lower classification that does not dovetail with the
revised higher classification; a third party trying to piece together
the entire hierarchy is faced with a challenge to reconcile the
disparate classifications into a coherent unit.

It's issues like this that demonstrate the potential need and utility of
HAVING a genuine consensus classification online and open to immediate
modification; if every taxonomist in the world participates in the
discussion, AND - the one crucial change needed to the "open"
Wiki model - there are standards for arbitration of disputes (i.e., a
proposed change cannot be made until certain explicit and objective
criteria are met), then I see this as an attainable and desirable goal.
The model behind how Wikispecies and Wikipedia operate is very close to
the model needed to make this work, but the taxonomic community largely
ignores these resources (if for no other reason than the justifiable
concern that any work one does to improve the resource will be undone by
a vandal or incompetent), and no model will work without
*participation*. Frankly, I have a hard time imagining ANY way to
convince every taxonomist in the world to collaborate with all the
others on a *voluntary* basis: there are too many "rugged
individualists" who will refuse to join in the effort, if not actively
work to undermine it for their own selfish reasons.

If you don't think the Wiki model is a viable approach to the matter,
even if modified to require approval for changes, then what alternative
do you see that will draw in all the world's taxonomists to contribute?


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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