[Taxacom] Clients for biodiversity informatics

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Thu Feb 18 21:47:52 CST 2010

Tony Rees wrote:

"The above is just to point out that Rich is over-simplifying if anything: this is the real world situation (of names used as pointers to information) that "Biodiversity informatics" and its clients (generally managers and policy makers who know nothing about taxonomy, and care even less) is making at least some efforts to come to grips with."

Was this the GOTCHA! moment? Have the principal beneficiaries of these enormous effort been - at last - revealed? Namely taxonomically clueless bureaucrats?

I'm kidding - a little. I've been asking who's going to use the Gigantic All-Species Distributed Database, and for what purposes, for several years on Taxacom, and not getting a clear answer. My main explanation (to myself) has been that the workers in this enterprise really aren't too sure. As with Rich Pyle, it's obvious to them that what they're working toward is better than what we have now, so the projects have a lot of well-founded progressive momentum.

Occasionally we get a 'sell' of the enterprise from highly cluey taxonomists like Rich, who can see benefits and use them in his daily work. But a 'sell' is necessary because there is no International Union of Taxonomists which voted unanimously to Go Go Go...Databasing! Not all taxonomists want it, or want to use it, and some (like Stephen Thorpe) are vocally grumbling.

I can say without much fear of being stomped on what taxonomists *do* want. They want human-digested and human-processed biodiversity information. They want expert summaries and compilations, not the ability to gather every tidbit of information *de novo* from the entire biodiversity literature. Where these expert summaries and compilations don't exist yet, taxonomists are building them, bottom up, in their own specialised areas or (as in Wikipedia and Wikispecies) in general. There are some really great specialist sites on the Web. No matter how much money gets poured into EoL or GBIF, the acronyms are highly unlikely to achieve the passionate focus, the wise perspective and the high data quality you can find on those specialist sites.

Will "managers and policy makers who know nothing about taxonomy, and care even less" visit those sites? I doubt it. Not when they've spent millions on the huge IT projects. So do we finish up with 3 classes of biodiversity information user?:

- the general public, which relies on WikiXXXX and isn't often disappointed?
- the taxonomic community, which goes to authoritative specialist resources?
- the clueless bureaucrats, who see knowledge as power, confuse data with knowledge and aggregate data for its own sake?
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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