[Taxacom] Google Wave: potential taxonomic tool?

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Tue Jun 2 19:02:17 CDT 2009

David Campbell wrote:

'While such groups sound valuable, there is the potential problem of funding/hiring organizations thinking "there's this online group/key/etc., so no need to pay anyone to do it." Linking experts online does no good if there are no experts or if they're all too busy flipping burgers (to afford buying more books) to work on the organisms.'

Your second comment first: as the scientist.com article (and a dozen other articles and reviews) observes, there are fewer and fewer experts and there is less and less support available for experts and training for experts. That's a fact. The best the campaigns for taxonomy funding can hope for in the near future is to stabilise the number of experts (replace the dead and dropped-out with new career taxonomists).

But 'taxonomists' does not equal 'taxonomy'. The latter is an aggregate of identifications and taxonomic publications. These are tasks accomplished, not people. If they are properly done, it doesn't matter whether they were done by one expert or a fluid community of 200 non-experts.

If the larger task set for taxonomy is to discover and document as much of the world's biota as possible, and to do that as soon as possible in the face of rapid extinction, then the old experts-do-taxonomy model has to be put on the margin, because there just aren't the experts. The central work model needs to be distributed taxonomic work.

Your first comment: 'adequate funding for taxonomy', IMO, means fieldwork and the collection infrastructure. All the rest is in people's heads. Funding those heads is 'experts-do-taxonomy' thinking. Largely cost-free headwork has been the ruling pattern for the spectacular success of open-source software for many years. Uncountable thousands of hours of unpaid work by thousands of developers and testers have gone into the programs that run on my (Linux) computer. Those programs, furthermore, have been bug-checked with an attention to detail that I'd like to see in more of the taxonomic papers I review.
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
(03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
Website: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/mesibov.html

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