[Taxacom] data quality vs. data security: a survey

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Fri Feb 12 01:49:30 CST 2010

Hi Stephen,

I think you've started to answer your own question.  But it's more than just
less time in the library.  Sure, having page images of original descriptions
(especially the really old ones) a single mouse-click away is a big part of
it.  And so is access to full literature citations/etc.  But the real
advantage is that the IT projects in general (including Wikispecies) are
increasingly allowing a massive reduction of redundant/duplicate effort.
The notion of "once digitized, always available" has been an idealistic pipe
dream, but various efforts (some mentioned in this thread, some not) are now
tantalizingly close to making this notion a reality.

Individually, things like BHL, IPNI, Index Fungorum, LPSN, ZooBank, NCBI,
BOLD, and many, many, many others provide wonderful tools for accessing
taxonomic information MUCH more easily than even a decade ago.  But what is
REALLY exciting is the movement toward INTEGRATION of all of these
initiatives -- a classic example of the whole representing far more than the
sum of its parts.  Through the combined efforts of the standards body
(TDWG), and the aggregators you seem to enjoy disparaging (GBIF, CoL, EOL,
ALA, etc.), this INTEGRATION is beginning to happen. Yes, it's taken a long
time to happen. There's a reason for that -- it's a HUGE task.  No, most of
the money spent on these initiatives would NOT have otherwise been made
available for basic taxonomy.  Don't take my word for it -- do the research
and find out where the money is coming from. It's not a matter of taking
large pieces of the pie; it's a matter of having a bigger pie.

And if you are among the chorus of grumbles that that money *SHOULD* be
coming to basic taxonomy (i.e., the funder's priorities -- and society's
priorities -- are backwards) -- well, I can't say I disagree.  But before
you blame the IT people and data aggregators for exacerbating the problem,
first consider this:  Think about how much money goes into space research
(ISS, etc.).  Think about how much money goes into Big Physics (LHC, etc.).
Next to any one large project in those fields, the entirity of all money
spent on biodiversity informatics is trivial.  So, why can't we get that
scale of funding?  When I talk to people who know this stuff (e.g., NSF
program officers and such), one answer consistently emerges.  Those fields
look like a bunch of bumbling, disorganized, bombastic, non-cohesive
squabbling fools by comparsion.  If we can actually build and implement an
underlying information architecture to COORDINATE and INTEGRATE our
collective efforts, we *might* (eventually) be taken seriously enough to get
the REAL scale of funding we need to do the job that needs to be done.  But
if we continue down our disorganized chaotic path, I'm quite certain we'll
never rise to that level.

Oh, and about this nonsense that space exploration or fundamental physics is
somehow more important to humanity; well, I made my position on that point
quite clear in my last "big" post to this thread some weeks ago.  If we, as
a community of taxonomists, were as well coordinated as the physics people
are, we might actually be able to get that point across to the broader
public.  Maybe.

And no, Bob -- these IT initiatives are NOT all redundant or duplication of
effort.  For the most part, they are quite complimentary.  No doubt there is
some overlap, but the perspective that they all do the same thing is only
shared by people who don't really understand what they do.  There is far
less redundancy in what these different initiatives do than there is
redundancy of effort we Taxonomists currently do because we lack any real
coordination and integration.  We taxonomists waste MUCH more time an money
through our horrendous inneficiencies and petty squabbles than all of the IT
initiatives combined. It's perfectly fine to criticize any or all of these
information management initiatives on legitimate grounds; but quite frankly,
most of the criticisms I've seen on this thread completely miss the mark,
and only demonstrate a lack of understanding of what's really going on.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Stephen Thorpe [mailto:s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz] 
> Sent: Thursday, February 11, 2010 8:34 PM
> To: Richard Pyle; 'Bob Mesibov'
> Subject: RE: [Taxacom] data quality vs. data security: a survey
> Oh, quoting me out of context, eh? :-)
> I also have feet in both camps, so that wasn't a criticism 
> (on re-reading what I wrote it sounds like one), and still 
> you don't answer my question: how does the existence of EOL 
> (you said 'am VERY excited about what the IT folk (among whom 
> I also dwell) are up to -- including ALA, including EOL') 
> facilitate more species descriptions by Richard Pyle?
> I think I know your basic argument - the less time spent in 
> the library or online hunting down references and things, the 
> more time out and about "in the sunshine" making discoveries 
> ... but I think Wikispecies can help with that, and probably 
> more so than EOL ...
> ________________________________________
> From: Richard Pyle [deepreef at bishopmuseum.org]
> Sent: Friday, 12 February 2010 7:30 p.m.
> To: Stephen Thorpe; 'Bob Mesibov'
> Subject: RE: [Taxacom] data quality vs. data security: a survey
> Hi Stephen,
> Well.... I guess we are both in agreement on at least one point:
> > Richard Pyle and others
> > may have a foot in both camps, but I just don't get his argument
> :-)
> Aloha,
> Rich=

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