[Taxacom] the hurdle for all biodiv informatics initiatives

Tom Schweich tas27 at schweich.com
Sat Feb 20 10:46:27 CST 2010

I dunno, guys.  I've been reading this "debate" and trying to make sense 
of it, then looking at the biodiversity data bases in light of my very 
small area of knowledge, the desert Frasera (Gentianaceae). 

I agree that the data is rather sparse. I also would say that what data 
exists is a little on the disappointing side, and the prospects for 
correcting things are dim. 

As a small example, GBIF and EOL will tell you that Frasera paniculata 
occurs in Lincoln County, Nevada.  They will even give us geographic 
coordinates to six digits to the right of the decimal point (37.641515N, 
114.875416W).  They do not, however, give us a clue that those 
coordinates just happen to be the geographic center of Lincoln County, 

I happen to believe that this observation is the result of a single 
mis-identified specimen (Marie Gentry #41, Frasera utahensis, Panaca 
Valley and vicinity, Summer 1941. Annotated: Frasera paniculata, D. M. 
Post, 1954).  I have seen this collection at UC and CAS, and it is, in 
fact, Frasera albomarginata.  Any idiot can see that, especially me.

What's happened here is that a unknown location of "Panaca Valley and 
vicinity" became  a low-accuracy location of "somewhere in Lincoln 
County" and was then translated into extremely high-precision 
coordinates. Not good.  So I would say the geographers behind the data 
bases have not adequately determined a method to display the geographic 
uncertainty behind an observation.

Thinking about fixing this mistake:  when I try to trace back the 
observation to its source, in GBIF and EOL, I get an un-followable 
reference to a USDA observation data base OR a reference to an 
unpublished document.  Well, that's not too helpful. A couple of hours 
to learn that the error could not be traced was more than I wanted to 

So, looking at EOL, GBIF, and Wikispecies, I think I have an easier and 
greater chance of correcting the mistaken impression that Frasera 
paniculata occurs in Nevada using Wikispecies rather than EOL or GBIF.  
So I might be tempted to put effort into Wikispecies rather than the 


Tom Schweich KJ6BIT tas27 at schweich.com

dipteryx at freeler.nl wrote:
> Van: Stephen Thorpe [mailto:s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz]
> Verzonden: za 20-2-2010 0:14
> Hi Paul,
> A frequent complaint you seem to voice about all biodiversity databases, including Wikispecies, is that they don't, by your estimation, contain much in the way of "useful" information. To my mind, however, they function to organise vast numbers references (preferably with links of some kind to those references) in a taxonomic way. The "useful information" is contained in the references, and not in the database per se. This is certainly how I view Wikispecies - a vast taxonomically organised library/bibliography, supplemented where possible with images...
> Cheers,
> Stephen
> ***
> Yes, among the concerns I have voiced (consistently, I hope, rather 
> than "frequently") is that the biodiversity databases appear to be 
> mostly empty infrastructure, waiting for content to (magically?) 
> manifest itself. (The only aspect where content is 'magically' 
> manifesting itself is in the form of pictures: a surprising amount 
> of pictures is available on the web, in great part from books 
> that by their age have entered the public domain, but also from 
> enthusiastic photographers)
> In how far references can yield this "useful information" is an open
> question. For some species the original description or the most recent
> monograph will yield state-of-the-art information. However, this will
> not universally, or even generally, be the case: often a lot more 
> information will exist. In extreme cases so much information exists for 
> a single species that even a mere bibliography can be daunting.
> But certainly it is very desirable for Wikispecies (or any biodiversity
> initiative) to list (taxon by taxon) what taxonomic treatment is being
> followed (backed up by a reference where necessary). Most parts of
> Wikispecies that I have seen fall short of this standard.
> Paul
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Tom Schweich KJ6BIT tas27 at schweich.com

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