[Taxacom] article on taxonomy

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Sat Feb 27 00:03:29 CST 2010

Hi Bob,

> 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.

OK, fair enough.  But you do see why it rubbed me the wrong way a little,
don't you?

> That is *not* the same as using digital tools to make 
> taxonomy more efficient. 

Yes, and therein lies what I think is a lot of the miscommunication.  And a
lot of the ambiguity of what we mean by "biodiversity informatics".  These
digital tools are *exactly* what I mean by biodiversity informatics.  The
reason I support the core infrastructures that the "Axis of Evil" are trying
to develop, is that many of those (admittedly not all) represent the
potential for taking what I as a computer-nerd can do on my laptop during my
expeditions, and generalizing it to the point where less-computer-nerd-like
taxonomists can gain the same benefit.

> How you can confuse that hands-on 
> digitalisation of taxonomy with the work of the acronyms 

While I understand how you can see them as different (and in some ways, I
can see the difference).  What confuses me is how you cannot see how tightly
related these *useful* tools for digitizing taxonomy can be even *more*
useful when they are coordinated.  Yes, we now have many individual digital
tools to help individual taxonomists.  The part of "biodiversity
informatics" that I am interested in (and have, admittedly, been advocating
in a more outspoken way than most), is the way to coordinate and integrate
those tools, both to avoid duplicate effort, and to speed information
transfer.  When I collect a specimen this morning, and take a digital photo
of it this afternoon, I would like that photo to be available to my
colleagues around the world before I eat dinner, so that after dinner I can
get feedback from them to help me plan my activities for the next day.  In
Palau, I did that manually, without the benefit of any online
infrastructure; and as a consequence I was getting less than 5 hours of
sleep each night (not a good thing to do before making a dive to 120 meters,
lasting 7 hours or more).  When I say "biodiversity informatics", part of
what I have in mind is a set of tools, most likely developed by "the
acronyms", that allows me to spend a few minutes (instead of a few hours)
transmitting my day's collecting work to my colleagues.

For example, our colleague Rob Whitton (not a taxonomist, but among the best
amateur underwater naturalists I know) will be joining us here in Fiji
tomorrow.  Rob's day job is as a *real* informatician, developing databases
for hospitals and insurance companies and such.  Rob has taken his passion
(underwater videography) and turned it into the most powerful technological
tool we currently have in our work (see: http://www.explorers-log.com/; and
particularly http://www.explorers-log.com/observations.cfm?PK_ObsEventID=3).
This is an excellent example of a digital tool to help us do our work.  Now,
the next step is to get this tool plugged into a robust infrastructure to
allow this information to be immediately available to anyone and everyone
who might have an interest in the information we are accumulating.  Not
exported, or copied, or sent on DVD or whatever -- I mean instantly
integrated and cross-linked to other digital information portals (the
acronyms and the non-acronyms alike).  This integration is currently tedious
and time-consuming and expensive when we do it manually.  But it COULD be
fast and cheap and easy and automatic with the right underlying
"biodiversity informatics" infrastructure.

> 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.

What will *you* get from EOL?  I have no idea.  What will *I* get from the
collective infrastructures, software applications, and access to a much
larger breadth of digized information made available to me by "the
acronyms"?  That's easy -- more time doing the kind of stuff I was doing
this morning.  E.g.:


P.S. Sorry about the photo link that obviously has nothing whatsoever to do
with discovering and documenting biodiversity; but since I had just uploaded
that image to show my wife, I couldn't resist the opportunity to work the
link in somewhere on this post.....and yes, that is me, and yes, it was
taken this morning (you should see the images I got on *my* camera! :-)  ).
And, for the record, earlier in that dive I did, in fact, document two new
species records from that reef.

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