[Taxacom] globalnames?

Dean Pentcheff pentcheff at gmail.com
Mon Sep 21 12:18:10 CDT 2009

On a side note, this discussion is a brilliant example of why database
geeks push hard to use "arbitrary" unique keys, instead of concocting
keys that include human-useful information.

What the botanical community has done (as I understand it) is create a
system of unique keys for taxonomic authors. The keys take the form of
a standardized (and unique) abbreviation for every author. So one
particular "Smith" person is identified uniquely as "Sm.". Presumably
another author sharing the same last name might be identified uniquely
as "Smi.", and so forth. (I have no idea what you guys do with the
53rd "Smith", but fortunately that's not my problem.)

The data-nerd's approach would have been to use something like
"184746" for that Smith, and "736659" for the other Smith. Sigh, you
say. Ugly. Opaque.

The advantage to the standard-abbreviation system is that, by using a
human-readable abbreviation as the unique key, the experienced reader
is able to (in most cases) mentally substitute the proper name

The disadvantage is that it's just too close to colloquial usage to be
safe. Geoffrey Read finds that particular abbreviation silly, so would
probably use "Smith" instead. That might be the standardized key for a
different Smith. If I didn't know about the standardized rules in use
and needed to mention "Pseudoplantus fakeus
Milne-Edan-Smytheson-James", I might try to save my typing fingers and
simply make up the abbreviation "Milne-Ed.". But maybe that actually
refers to Mr. Milne-Edwards.

Whenever a key includes "useful" information in addition to its core
purpose as a unique identifier, it becomes prone to well-intentioned
meddling, hence much less reliable as an actual unique identifier.

Dean Pentcheff
pentcheff at gmail.com

On Sun, Sep 20, 2009 at 11:39 PM, Paul Kirk <p.kirk at cabi.org> wrote:
> You conveniently didn't answer the question - which was - would you
> support (promote) the use of 'Smith' for all 120 Smith's rather than an
> unambiguous abbreviation?
> Paul
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Geoffrey Read [mailto:gread at actrix.gen.nz]
> Sent: 19 September 2009 23:55
> To: Paul Kirk
> Cc: Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: RE: [Taxacom] globalnames?
> The abbreviation 'Sm.' for Smith is astoundingly silly. You don't really
> do that do you? Oh dear.
> On not showing authors in a species page - depends on who the end user
> will be, but if hidden for simplicity for those you think would have
> little interest in them they should be there in the background to  be
> conjured up instantly for the many who do require them to make sense of
> the name.
> Cheers,
> Geoff
> On Fri, September 18, 2009 10:44 pm, Paul Kirk wrote:
>> Author abbreviations: punctuation (and diacriticals) in author
>> abbreviations is ignored in determining an appropriate form to avoid
>> ambiguity thus any author named Bull would have initials added to
>> distinguish them. However, to follow your 'logic' forward ... Bulliard
>> is indeed unique and easily recognized even for the untutored user but
>> am I correct in assuming you would support the use of Smith rather
>> than the unambiguous Sm., A.H.Sm., J.Sm. etc, etc, for all 120 Smiths
>> who are plant name authors? And Smith is not now the most common
>> surname/family name!
>> Incidentally, I am against including author citations anywhere except
>> in hard core nomenclature and taxonomy - most users, untutored or
>> otherwise, should not see them - that they continue to be used (often
>> copied from one incorrect source to another) outside the areas
>> mentioned is indeed a "relic of ancient times".
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