[Taxacom] biodiversity databases
s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz
Tue Feb 9 16:12:42 CST 2010
This email seems to be conflating a couple of quite different things, and I don't see a clear and accurate conclusion:
>the general working model of large online taxonomic projects seems to be: We will spend lots of money on developing a nice electronic platform so that taxonomists can volunteer their time to provide information.
This is confusing! Let's consider two particular cases: EOL and Wikispecies
EOL: I believe that EOL's working model is pretty much the very opposite of this! It is all about catering to the (financial) needs of the taxonomic community, but to the disadvantage of the end users! There will perhaps never be much actual useful content on EOL...
Wikispecies: Wikimedia Foundation (an entity independent of the scientific community) spent some (lots?) of money to create a platform do that anybody can volunteer their time to provide information. I suspect that it wasn't ever envisaged to be a "serious" resource of taxonomic information, but, oddly enough, it can be just that!
>But unless they know something about the taxa in question (and the geography and biogeography), they aren't going to be very good at avoiding typos, at deciphering poor or antique handwriting, at detecting synonyms, etc.
Very true, but what are you using it to argue? I guess this is part of EOLs attempted self-justification, i.e., unless the contributors know what they are talking about, the result is not going to be reliable ..
But, actually, it happens to be a (perhaps surprising) fact, that on balance Wikispecies contributors are people who know what they are talking about (unless you do know a lot, you can't even make a start at many taxa), and errors not only come about through lack of knowledge, but also by being too rushed or busy with other projects. Generally, Wikispecies contributors have more time to ensure that everything is correct, and are driven by a "passion" to make it correct. So the comparison between EOL and Wikispecies is actually much closer than you might think, and since Wikispecies doesn't cost anything to the scientific community, money currently funding EOL and similar projects would perhaps be better spent funding taxonomists to actually do taxonomy? Doing actual taxonomy is hard work, of course, but that is why they are getting paid to do it ...
Also, it is sometimes not very easy to determine who, in the scientific community, is an appropriate person to be an EOL contributor or vetter. Some people are employed nominally as taxonomists when in fact they are phylogeneticists, and have, rightly or wrongly, grandiose notions of the "bigger picture" with a poor head for details ...
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Dr. David Campbell [amblema at bama.ua.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, 10 February 2010 10:47 a.m.
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: [Taxacom] biodiversity databases
>From the cynical viewpoint of an unemployed taxonomist, the general
working model of large online taxonomic projects seems to be:
We will spend lots of money on developing a nice electronic platform so
that taxonomists can volunteer their time to provide information.
Taxonomists need funds to obtain/access literature and to study taxa
Taxonomists need to be able to pay their bills, eat, etc.
Taxonomists who are employed generally do not get any recognition
(particularly in terms of tenure) for volunteering their time to check
Similar problems exist for many databasing efforts. Putting
collections data online is considered an assignment for student
assistants or museum volunteers. But unless they know something about
the taxa in question (and the geography and biogeography), they aren't
going to be very good at avoiding typos, at deciphering poor or antique
handwriting, at detecting synonyms, etc. Then the database gets
incorporated into larger databases and all the typos become fictional
taxa with established online presence...
Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections Building
Department of Biological Sciences
Biodiversity and Systematics
University of Alabama, Box 870345
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0345 USA
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