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

Stephen Thorpe s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz
Fri Feb 12 18:47:31 CST 2010

I think that the problem is more complex, and indeed more "twisted" (with full connotations), at least in N.Z. I don't know about Australia, but here the amount of funding being granted (by FRST http://www.aboutus.org/Frst.govt.nz) expressly for the purposes of doing primary taxonomy of the N.Z. land biota (http://www.frst.govt.nz/news/frstnews/oct08#item-11 Unrecorded New Zealand now being catalogued) has actually increased recently (by NZ$7m over a 4 year cycle)! Yet, 2008-2009 was a record low for taxonomic outputs in entomology from that OBI! An example I have already cited is that it is the first consecutive 2 years EVER that there have been no new contributions whatsoever in the Fauna of New Zealand series. Something is going wrong, but it isn't simply a lack of funding. It is more to do with how that funding is being spent, and who is eligible to receive it. They have slipped the terms "catalogued" and "documented" into the equation, instead of just straight out "described and named", and this illustrates my point about the taxonomy/bioinformatics distinction becoming increasingly blurred (probably intentionally by taxonomists who prefer to choose the soft option) ...

From: Bob Mesibov [mesibov at southcom.com.au]
Sent: Friday, 12 February 2010 9:35 p.m.
To: Richard Pyle
Cc: Stephen Thorpe; 'TAXACOM'
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] data quality vs. data security: a survey

Richard Pyle wrote:

"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."

Oh, no. You didn't really dangle that carrot, did you? "If we do X and Y and Z now, then someday someone may take us seriously and fund us hugely, so we should all get behind doing X and Y and Z"? And you didn't really want to claim that people who criticise the distortions in priorities Just Don't Understand, and if they understood, then they'd back the distortions?

Sorry, I find both of those arguments offensive, and we clearly aren't going to agree on this. It's depressing to watch natural history collections and taxonomic expertise disappearing while a certain sector of the taxonomic enterprise hopes we *might* (eventually) get a Large Taxonomic Collider or a Deep Ocean Taxoscope. And perfecting and reperfecting and reperfecting 'information management initiatives' is fine, just fine, but the simple truth is that you could stop *all* taxonomic activity tomorrow, cut the flow of new data to zero, and still have enough information to manage, and remanage, and remanage for decades to come. Now *there's* a career path!

Chuckle as much as you like at petty squabbling taxonomists, they don't need biodiversity informatics professionals. It would nice to think the reverse wasn't true, but it isn't, which may explain the rise of project after project (see the e-Biosphere abstracts) and the lousy prospects for generating new taxonomic data.
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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