[Taxacom] Wikipedia classification

Roderic Page r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
Tue Jul 7 02:08:53 CDT 2009


On 6 Jul 2009, at 23:53, Jim Croft wrote:

> And while you are at it, taxonomic concepts need to be thrown into  
> the mix.
>
> I have been arguing with Rod Page (unsuccessfully - not sure if this
> is Rod's fault, my fault or twitter's fault) that Wikipedia does not
> document, resolve or disambiguate taxonomic concepts well (i.e. at
> all) and most times presents an  anonymous single view of a taxonomy
> that can not be unambiguously resolved to anything other than
> 'Wikipedia's view' (and who is this Wikipedia dude anyway?).  Rod's
> blog describes the extent of this lack of completeness of information
> and he problems it caused for automated information management.
>
> In order to keep faith with its principle of [citation needed],
> Wikipedia needs to explicitly refer to which concept it is using and
> for each taxon and list *all* the synonyms and exclusions associated
> with this concept.   To do anything less is journalism, not science.
> Come to think of it, to not be explicit about concepts is not even
> good journalism.

In my view, the concept Wikipedia is using is its own. Any major  
classification is providing a set of "concepts" (e.g., ITIS, Catalogue  
of Life, NCBI, etc.). Certainly if you view taxon concepts as defined  
by extension (taxon "a" includes these 10 taxa) this will almost  
always be true (given that no one classification lists all taxa).

I view the goal of documenting all concepts and their  
interrelationships as a fool's errand. Ultimately, who cares? Most  
taxonomic concepts are out of date, if not uninterpretable (new taxa  
are discovered, how do these fit in to an old concept?).

In the modern age I suggest that we should care about synonyms,  
especially at the species level, not because species are biologically  
"special", but because the binomial system causes large numbers of  
these, resulting in a serious information retrieval problem.

Higher up, any modern biologist is going to use phylogenies to do any  
serious comparative work, so higher taxon names are shortcuts, tags we  
bandy around willy-nilly, knowing full well that their meaning might  
not be terribly clear, but we cope.

Do we really need to know what author x meant by concept y at time z?  
I suspect not. If we do, we're pretty much screwed.

Regards

Rod




>
> Having said that I really like the open and collabrative approach to
> Wikipedia and I use it extensively as a useful first port of call for
> information on taxa I know nothing about.  You might even call it
> trustworthy.  But there is no way you could call its taxonomy
> authoritative.
>
> jim (liking that Homona has no homonyms :)
>
>
> On Mon, Jul 6, 2009 at 5:42 PM, <Tony.Rees at csiro.au> wrote:
>> Just pursuing the homonym theme a little further - you have to  
>> consider synonyms too, unfortunately.
>>
>> Giving you a taste of what happens when you scratch the surface here:
>>
>> Below I mentioned the other homonyms in the Erica case. Following  
>> the zoological ones first:
>>
>> Erica Peckham, 1892 (alternatively: Peckham & Peckham, 1892) is the  
>> valid one (a spider genus) - interestingly its entry on wikispecies  
>> is at http://species.wikimedia.org/wiki/Erica_(Araneae) rather than  
>> having the higher taxonomy in the path as is the case for other  
>> taxa I have seen.
>>
>> Erica Wenz, 1919 is a mollusc. If it was a really new taxon it  
>> would be a jumior homonym and would need to be replaced. However  
>> according to Nomenclator Zoologicus it is a misspelling / variant  
>> of Ericia Moquin-Tandon, 1848 so could point to that, maybe.  
>> However Ericia Moquin-Tandon, 1848 is synonym of Pomatias Studer,  
>> 1789 according to wwmcat.it/malaco/photos/gastropoda/ 
>> LITTORINIMORPHA.htm , so that would be the valid name. Now there is  
>> another Ericia as well, Ericia Walker, 1866 (an insect) which is  
>> now considered a synonym of Homona Walker, 1863 (otherwise would  
>> itself need a replacement name). Homona has no homonyms, at least  
>> that I have found to date.
>>
>> Pomatias Studer, 1789, where the trail via Ericia led us, also has  
>> a couple of homonyms, Pomatias Schneider, 1801 (a fish) and  
>> Pomatias Hartmann, 1821 (another mollusc). Pomatias Schneider, 1801  
>> is now considered a synonym of Triurus Lacep├Ęde, 1800, which has  
>> another homonym, Triurus Swainson, 1839 (now included in Harpadon),  
>> according to Eschmeyer's Catalog of Fishes, while Pomatias  
>> Hartmann, 1821 has been replaced by Hartmannia Newton, 1891 which  
>> appears to be current. Now there are four other "Hartmannia"s, but  
>> maybe we should not go there...
>>
>> In the botanical case it is simpler, Erica Linnaeus, 1753 is  
>> current while Erica Boehmer in C.G. Ludwig, 1760 is now included in  
>> Andromeda Linnaeus, 1753 and Erica O. Kuntze, 1891 is now included  
>> in Calluna R.A. Salisbury, 1802 (at least according to Index  
>> Nominum Genericorum). Now Andromeda has 4 other homonyms (all in  
>> Zoology) according to Nomenclator Zoologicus, while Calluna has  
>> none, so far as I know at present.
>>
>> Anyway you will get the picture. It's not as simple as it seems.  
>> Happy thinking...
>>
>> Best regards - Tony
>>
>>
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu 
>> ] On Behalf Of Tony.Rees at csiro.au
>> Sent: Monday, 6 July 2009 4:38 PM
>> To: una.smith at att.net; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
>> Subject: [ExternalEmail] Re: [Taxacom] Wikipedia classification
>>
>> One observation - I imagine that there would be plenty of Wikipedia  
>> pages to be changed to disambiguation pages - maybe too many to be  
>> tractable?
>>
>> For example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erica currently goes to  
>> the botanical Erica, while http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erica_(disambiguation) 
>>  lists also the zoological genus (spider), the person name, some  
>> places...
>>
>> In the model you are proposing, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erica  
>> should really be the disambiguation page, with a new page for the  
>> plant along the lines of the zoological one, currently http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erica_(zoological_genus)
>>
>> In this case only 2 homonyms are already causing this problem;  
>> unlisted are a further 3 (invalid) Erica instances, 2 more in  
>> Botany (more heaths) and one more in Zoology (mollusc). So the  
>> suffix (zoological_genus) and (botanical_genus) is not really the  
>> complete answer either, since there are multiple instances in each.
>>
>> You will have to give thought to whether it is really possible to  
>> retrofit the model suggested over the existing Wikipedia content,  
>> plus things that already link to it.
>>
>> (The above is also noteworthy in that it is the example cited on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homonym_(biology) 
>>  , but 2 instances only)
>>
>> Just a thought,
>>
>> Tony
>>
>>
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu 
>> ] On Behalf Of Una Smith
>> Sent: Monday, 6 July 2009 11:21 AM
>> To: TAXACOM
>> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Wikipedia classification
>>
>> Kleo Pullin wrote:
>>> Oh, left the years off: also included with the names on the  
>>> disambiguation pages of many things besides taxa, this is where  
>>> the years or simply listing that one is a senior synonym, or  
>>> listing, beside the junior synonym, its currently accepted name  
>>> would be the equivalent.
>>
>> In the case of Latreillia, both homonyms were published in 1830.  In
>> any case, as often happens on Wikipedia, while we have been talking
>> the page has changed, and a discussion and meta-discussion have been
>> started:
>>
>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latreillia
>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Latreillia
>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_talk:WikiProject_Tree_of_life#Homonyms
>>
>> Better?
>>
>>
>>> There are many ways to go that would make a taxa disambiguation  
>>> page more useful than a shot in the dark, particularly when what  
>>> you don't know is what type of organism it is.
>>
>> Sure, but recall that this disambiguation page has no incoming links,
>> and one point of having a disambiguation page is to capture and fix
>> incoming links so that they go to the relevant article.  (After I  
>> made
>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latreillia a disambiguation page, I  
>> fixed
>> the incoming links.)  So the only way a reader will find the page is
>> via a search.  A search on the species name or on the homonym and
>> authority will send the reader directly to the relevant article, not
>> to the disambiguation page.
>>
>> One problem we have is that Wikipedia has no concept of a "taxon
>> disambiguation page";  we barely manage to have a plant common names
>> disambiguation page.
>>
>>        Una Smith
>>
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>
>
>
> -- 
> _________________
> Jim Croft ~ jim.croft at gmail.com ~ +61-2-62509499 ~
> http://www.google.com/profiles/jim.croft
>
> ... in pursuit of the meaning of leaf ...
>
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---------------------------------------------------------
Roderic Page
Professor of Taxonomy
DEEB, FBLS
Graham Kerr Building
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

Email: r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
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