[Taxacom] decline and fall of taxonomy

Donat Agosti agosti at amnh.org
Wed Jun 17 03:13:50 CDT 2009


I am not a taxonomy conservationist, nor am I interested to be a taxonomist
if this is means to belong to a very specific breed. I am rather want to
know what's out there, and let others participate in the fantastic diversity
there is.

I also see digitization to have two elements. The change from analog to
digital, or Gutbenberg to Semantic Web is like a chemical reaction, in this
case one that releases a lot of energy, since it is going from a high energy
(amount of energy needed to create knowledge) to one a low energy status.
Energy would represent the time needed to collect all your exisiting data
and then disseminate/publish it. Thus, if you have all the publications,
specimens, DNA sequences you name it at your fingertip, then you do not
painstakingly have to collate them. Same, if you have a mechanism to produce
descriptions straight out of your databases, with little copy paste, then
you are much faster, and have more time for scientific discovery. But, as
many of the chemical reaction, that is the activation energy that is a
factor assuring that most of the world is not exploding and ending up at the
lowest possible energy level.... Of course this also means different kind of
infrastructure, ie IT. But this, unlike libraries need only once be
populated and thus an enormous amount of costs can be saved.

And this latter activation energy is where we stand now. We need a new
infrastructure and we need content. Infrastrucure is being build like crazy
so it is more of an adoption of existing tools to our purposes. There is a
lot of money spend in this area, both in the private as well as in the
public sector. And if we would talk to each other, we could probably get a
really good deal for each of us.
Content is more the issue: How is going to do this? The longer the more we
discover how expensive it is to make sense of published publications so
machines can read and exploit them. The change to sematic Web is made, once
we do not have to read single PDFs anymore, but the content can be
extracted, mined, etc. So, who is doing that? And why are we not avoiding
this altogether by switching to ways of communication of our science that is
immediately accessible to anybody? There are some guidelines on how this
might happen from institutions like TDWG or GBIF, but it needs also our
publishers that think more innovatively, and not least ourselves that think
about the option we have once we have such tools.

Donat




-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Bob Mesibov
Sent: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 11:37 AM
To: Dean Pentcheff
Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] decline and fall of taxonomy

Hi, Dean.

I'm not sure what you've said supports Donat. Slowing the decline of a
professional discipline, or preventing it from dying altogether, isn't the
same as revitalising it and increasing the number of its professional
workers.

But digitisation is not only a good idea, it is absolutely *essential* if
taxonomy is to transform itself. For a very long time taxonomy has been, and
still is, something mainly done by institution-based professionals. That
needs to change. A great deal (not all, but a lot) of the hand-wringing
about the decline of taxonomy is actually despair at the prospects for
institution-based professionals in future. As I've said before, this is
confusing taxonomists with taxonomy. The fundamental unit of taxonomy isn't
a person, it's a taxonomic action, which in the broad sense includes
identification as well as publication.

There is no reason why Web-based communities of professionals, amateurs and
other volunteers cannot generate taxonomic actions: correct identifications,
and Code-compliant, high-quality publications. The Google Groups discussion
calls this 'open taxonomy', but you could also call it 'distributed
taxonomy'. Digitisation and good project management are prerequisites. The
biggest obstacle I'm seeing at the moment is the entrenched attitude that
'taxonomy' somehow equates to 'professional taxonomists'.

Fewer professionals could mean increased output, if those professionals are
willing to participate in projects that use the enormous human resources
online.
-- 
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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