[Taxacom] GBIF: perpetuating probably defunct unpublished names

David Remsen (GBIF) dremsen at gbif.org
Mon May 24 05:33:53 CDT 2010

On May 24, 2010, at 1:39 AM, Stephen Thorpe wrote:

> 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???

Among the uses of primary biodiversity data originating in collections  
that are by no means comprehensive - just what pops into my head from  
recent correspondence.

* Integration with information on world protected areas and with  
thematically-scoped species checklists like the Red-list to assess  
whether for example, critically endangered species occur within  
protected areas or not.

Ex. http://www.protectedplanet.net/sites/Cabaneros_National_Park_State_Network

* Integration with elevation and habitat data to focus on mountainous  


* Integration with climatic data to define a species occurrence  
envelope to make predictive distributions.


* Integration with climate change models to predict possible changes  
to crop distribution and the impact of climate change on crop wild  


In these cases, it is infrastructure that enables these questions and  
lines of inquiry to be pursued and it often indicates a clear need for  
more accurate and verified data.   Perhaps, we could and should, as  
Stephen suggests, disconnect that infrastructure from the 8000 or so  
source databases that provide these 200 million plus raw data and  
identify a set of courses that provide only sources derived through  
taxonomic revisions.   It may be, via examples like this,  that  
additional use cases to support increased taxonomic revisions can be  

I believe, however, that there is a need for infrastructure that  
enables and supports larger questions about biodiversity.  I also  
think there should be a distinction made between that infrastructure  
and the quality of data that is mobilised through it.  We can, and  
should, focus on methods that enable quality assessments to be made,  
annotations to be provided, and data quality to be improved.

The content in wikispecies may represent a higher quality than what we  
can derive from the raw collections data.    I don't believe the  
wikispecies format or wikispecies site provides services that can  
enable this content to be served in a manner that could inform the  
examples above.  However, if the data is consistent, comprehensive and  
has sufficient internal integrity,  we could map it to the data  
formats that do conform to the requirements of those above and we  
could redirect that infrastructure to serve the wikispecies data.   I  
am happy to take on the task of mapping the data to these standards  
and work with you or others on the structure of the wikispecies site  
to create a requirements document for a developer to create the  
transformation on a regular basis.   I can also provide other use  
cases for the wikispecies data and the requirements for them.


> (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 ...
> Stephen
> ________________________________
> 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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