[Taxacom] dissapearing data

Jim Croft jim.croft at gmail.com
Fri Nov 7 22:28:21 CST 2008

There is no doubt in my mind that electrons will win - no doubt at
all.  But our challenge is to make sure the victory happens on our
terms.  And that the bloody internet bear does not catch and eat
anything we might want to go back and check.

Doug Yanega took me to task about this off-line as well and I was
lamenting that we have no technology independent electronic equivalent
of the Rosetta Stone that we will be able to rely on for millenia (or
even dare I say, decades).  Increasingly our media are becoming more
and more fragile and evanescent as our knowledge base gets condemned
to the transience of the web 3.0 blogosphere...  it is at once very
exciting and very frightening...  I would not want to be part of the
community that lost Dioscorides or Linneaus for humanity... or the
protologue and typification of (name the organism of your choice)...

It is interesting to think about knowledge and how it is created,
transmitted and maintained.  Documented science is only a few millenia
old (with that embarassing blot of the Dark Ages in the middle).   And
think of modern attempts of regimes and education systems to
obliterate what we would consider knowledge.  Consider also the
indigenous inhabitants of this continent who managed knowledge by
talking, singing and dancing about it.  Not an archive to be seen and
nothing 'permanent' at all - but they lived with and off the
biodiversity of one of the most inhospitable continents for 40-50
millenia.   The story may not always be biologically accurate, but
hey, it is no worse than a barge with a bunch of animals floating
around Mesopotamia for a month and a half.

>From where I sit, the only way to preserve the electronic
data/information/knowledge we are generating now, is to keep it
permanently in play, moving from one platform to another and hopefully
not losing (or gaining?) anything in the process.   There is no such
thing as an electronic archive in the traditional sense of archive.
If you put it away it will be unusable and effectively gone within a
decade.  We all have horror stories of unreadable tapes and floppy
disks, etc.

Yes, knowledge on the Internet may well become the new DreamTimeStory
(cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreamtime) where the Internet is the
Spirit of Knowledge that is told and retold by the learned elders, and
one day not even the elders will be required as one computer tells
another, which tells another, which...  hang on - I think I have seen
that movie...


On Sat, Nov 8, 2008 at 1:49 PM, Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org> wrote:
>> With the major push towards electronic-only publishing of the
>> business and data of taxonomy, persistence of our resources
>> and results would have to be one of our biggest challenges.
>> And by persistence I mean *always and forever* being able to
>> find the thing by the same route/URI.
> There's an old joke that keeps coming back in the context of conversations
> such as these:
> Two guys walking in the woods, and a big nasty bear starts charging them.
> One guy gets ready to bolt, and the other guy sits down and puts on his
> running shoes. The first guy says, "Are you crazy?? You'll never out-run
> that bear!"  The second guy says, "I don't have to out-run the bear; I only
> have to out-run YOU."
> There's a similar joke involving two divers, a knife, and a really big
> shark.
> The point is this:  Electronically-archived taxonomic acts do not need to
> last "always and forever"; they only need to last (and be accessible) as
> well as, or better than, the average paper-based publication.  Looking at my
> book shelf, I (unfortunately) do not see an original copy of Linnaeus, 1758.
> A quick jaunt to BHL via my web browser, though.....
> So maybe this is just a quirky anomaly of this moment in history -- fair
> enough.  We won't really know for sure until another 250 years from now
> which of the two versions of the description of Chromis abyssus is more
> easily accessed (one of the paper copies, or the electronic version).
> I honestly don't know which technology will win (paper or electrons).  The
> electron-based solution surely seems to have the edge in terms of
> *potential* for a better future (at least for anyone born after about 1967
> -- i.e., those who had the opportunity to grow up with computers from a
> reasonably early age), but it lacks a signficant track record.
> Sort of parallels the arguments made concerning the new president-elect of
> our country.  If the analogy runs any deeper than this, then my money is
> definitely on the elections!
> Errr..I mean electrons.....
> Aloha,
> Rich
> Richard L. Pyle, PhD
> Database Coordinator for Natural Sciences
>  and Associate Zoologist in Ichthyology
> 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

Jim Croft ~ jim.croft at gmail.com ~ +61-2-62509499

"Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality."
- Joseph Conrad, author (1857-1924)

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