[Taxacom] article on taxonomy

Dean Pentcheff pentcheff at gmail.com
Fri Feb 26 23:54:06 CST 2010

I want to save the world's diversity. Or what it may still be possible
to save. Doing that requires knowing what's there and where it is --
"discover and document living forms."

But to do that, I need to know what's already been found. I know full
well that many people have worked hard to document that, but I can't
get at that information. Not only because it's not humanly possible to
spend that much time culling literature, but because I'm not smart
enough to aggregate the digital information that's out there by
myself. I don't think anyone's smart enough.

Classically, the solution to problems when no one is smart enough to
solve the problem is to get a bunch of smart people working on it
together. That's what the alphabet soup organizations are doing.
They're trying to make it possible for the dwindling few people who
are trying to discover and document living forms to do it in an
informed and therefore effective way. They're trying to make the
discoveries we have made already apparent to us all.

And, returning to my first sentence, I can't save the world's
biodiversity. But I know who can. The people who can are the
policy-makers at many levels who make the the decisions on what to
save and what to give up. If we don't provide them with well-collated
and well-considered information in real time, what we want to save
will be lost. Because believe me, policy makers do not work on an
academic timeframe, but on a very fast, very legally-mandated
timescale. In the absence of information, the academic position is to
stop further activity. In the development world, the absence of
information yields a "neg dec": a declaration of no impact, so
development proceeds with no further consideration.

So we have a choice. We can use all our time to inform ourselves about
our precious biodiversity as it all vanishes. Or we can use some of
our time to hugely multiply the effectiveness of the knowledge we have
by making it accessible and useful to the people whose decisions
really can save the world's biodiversity.

Dean Pentcheff
pentcheff at gmail.com
dpentch at nhm.org

On Fri, Feb 26, 2010 at 10:23 PM, Bob Mesibov <mesibov at southcom.com.au> wrote:
> Hi, Rich.
> Just before you go out diving... You underestimate yourself if you don't think you've been one of the most consistent and passionate champions of 'biodiversity informatics' on this list, which is why I named you - to refer to those earlier posts of yours which argued for a well-organised, universally available taxonomic data infrastructure as an expediter of discovery.
> That is *not* the same as using digital tools to make taxonomy more efficient. I've been posting here about the usefulness of GIS and other spatial tools for years, and my laptop - just like yours - is loaded with records databases, GIS and image files. How you can confuse that hands-on digitalisation of taxonomy with the work of the acronyms (see dozens of recent Taxacom posts, and Boero's article) which has spent so much time data-shuffling is beyond me. On the one hand we have digital tools that can make hands-on work more efficient for taxonomists who can afford them, and on the other we have gigantic, multi-million dollar projects whose output is - what? Flawed locality records? Blank species pages? I wrote ' projects which endlessly catalogue and reformat what's already known in taxonomy' and I meant just that. What kind of return on investment am I going to get from EoL, Rich? Taxonomic work *creates content* for aggregators. It's after the fact of doing the taxonomy.
> --
> 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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