[Taxacom] GBIF: perpetuating probably defunct unpublished names

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Sun May 23 18:39:47 CDT 2010

Two key issues here:

(1) who wants/needs biodiversity information, and in what form do they want/need it? Is there a "one format suits all"?? What are people actually using any of these biodiversity data resources (including Wikispecies) for???

(2) it may be more difficult to measure than the rate of oil spewing into the GoM, but just how much spurious/incorrect/misleading data is being spewed out of GBIF etc.? Just 5000 barrells per day ... ! :) There really are an awful lot of scolytine names on GBIF misleadingly attributed to Wood & Bright, 1992 ...

Personally, when a database tells me that the source of their data is another database, and gives no direct links to, or citations of, primary sources, I ask myself "why am I wasting my time here"?

Also, using specimen data from collections, as I said, is really only reliable after taxonomic revision, and when each and every specimen has been labelled by the reviser ...


From: Bob Mesibov <mesibov at southcom.com.au>
To: TAXACOM <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Sent: Mon, 24 May, 2010 11:04:11 AM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] GBIF: perpetuating probably defunct unpublished names

Wolfgang Lorenz wrote:

"Large-scale "top-down" projects can provide infrastructures to make such individual taxonomists' work easier and the results better accessible for the wider community."

This is a key argument made by aggregators, and I can't accept it.

First, I don't believe that the various data infrastructures available for databasing taxonomic and specimen data can make the work of individual taxonomists any easier - unless those taxonomists are employed to transform their own or some museum's data sets into something usable by large-scale top-down projects. This of course only rarely happens, because taxonomists are expected to do this additional work for free. There is no universally used software package for recording taxonomic and specimen data and there never will be, and taxonomists will continue to manage data in ways that suit the taxa concerned and the specialists concerned.

Second, 'the wider community' is not better served by the large-scale top-down projects. That community votes with its mouse-clicking finger and the overwhelming majority of clickers have selected WikiXXXX and the carefully crafted bottom-up sites on particular taxa.

That's for access. How about content? Well, for taxonomy and the biology it fronts, no one is going to wait for EOL to fill its pages when there are content-rich sites already loaded with literature and other links. As for specimen data, I've personally been burned often enough by GBIF to avoid it. I go to the monographs that Stephen Thorpe highlights as our best source of specimen data, and to pages (like those on Wikispecies) that point to those monographs.

The 'tunneling through the mountain' analogy isn't a good one. A better one would be: there is a mountain of biodiversity data. Numerous specialist workers are chipping away at it and taking off high-quality chunks and handing it out to anyone interested in those taxa, Elsewhere on the mountain, people have set up several big marquees with signs saying 'Get all your biodiversity data here!' Unfortunately these promoters don't have much to offer yet and what they have is more suspect than what the large number of specialist diggers are producing.
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
Webpage: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/mesibov.html


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