[Taxacom] globalnames?

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Wed Sep 16 19:29:32 CDT 2009

> I would think that "same name" recognition is only 
> one of the things than humans can do better than computers.

I should hope so.
> Others include being able to "see" non-obvious errors 
> (inferences based on experience), and being able to judge how 
> important/worthwhile/relevant something is. 


> The result of 
> entirely automated bioinformatics would be chaos 

Yet another point we all seem to agree on!  We're on a roll!

> - we need 
> humans to at least take the initial computer generated info 
> and do the hard work of interpreting it all properly. 

Damn straight!  Sure would be nice to do so by clicking a bunch of "confirm"
buttons and/or "reject" buttons, with direct access to page images in BHL,
using some nice, elegant services that (I hope) will emerge from the GNA.
It would suck if we had to do it all the way we've been doing these past
couple of decades (lots of carpal tunnel syndrome and visits to the

> The 
> problem is that this is a slow and delicate process, which is 
> what I think Paul may have been alluding to when he suggested 
> that the outcome of a bioinformatics project is likely just 
> to be an insurmountable mass of raw data of little use! 

Sure has been so far!  Would be nice to find ways to speed it up while
simultaneously increasing accuracy, and eliminating redundany of effort. No?

> I suspect bioinformatics people are behind the current trend to 
> regiment the format of primary taxonomic literature from now 
> on, thereby making it easier for computers to digest. 

Hmmm, not from where I sit.  It's mostly taxonomists who are tired of the
inanities of their jobs, when they know life *could* be a lot easier for

> Trouble 
> is that the foundations of modern taxonomy are in old and 
> unregimented literature spanning 4 centuries! 

Indeed!  Talk to the BHL, Plazi, and INOTAXA folks about this one.

> Realistically, 
> it is "pie in the sky" to track every single use of a taxon 
> name - it is akin to counting every grain of sand on a beach.

More akin to indexing every web page (oh, wait, that's been done).
Err...more like scanning every page of every published book (oops, that
one's being done now too).
> We need to be able to focus on what is important, and move on 
> from there in a constructive way, rather than being dragged 
> back by a virtual infinity of tiny little problems of no 
> consequence. 

Wow!  Seems like we agree on four things now!  Unbelievable!

> And this is coming from someone (me), who has 
> often been branded a "mere details person"! One option is to 
> concentrate less on providing an answer to everything anyone 
> might want to know, but rather provide them with a means of 
> finding it out for themselves. 

Amen, brother!  Be careful, though -- you're starting to sound a lot like a
biodiversity informatician!

> To this end, money might be 
> well spent on digitising more and more primary taxonomic 
> literature, and making it free on the web, along with good 
> images of taxa, etc. Do we really want a world in which the 
> answer to everything is just one mouse click away?* I for one 
> like tracking things down for myself ...

Hmmm....given a choice between:

A) heading across town to the University campus, finding parking
(sheeyeah...as if....), gaining access to the rare book collection, and
seeing (but not being allowed to photocopy) the original description of some
species (been there, done that, many, many times); vs. 

B) slightly moving my right wrist and twitching my right index finger to
gain access to the exact same information (which I can store on my local
computer, in full resolution, so I can view any time I want); or maybe

C) debating the obvious on email lists....

....I think I'll go with "option B".

> *Amusing to imagine the reaction you would get from people 30 
> years ago, if you had said that in the future, the answer to 
> everything would be just a mouse click away!

That's just about the time the folks at Xerox were inventing the mouse.  I
wonder what their reaction would be....


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

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