[Taxacom] Sorry, but you are out-of-line

Jim Croft jim.croft at gmail.com
Sun Nov 14 22:02:16 CST 2010

I like that Doug and others have brought up Genbank as a model for
managing taxonomic information.  Not because I think it is the
bomb-proof model that will solve all our current and future needs, but
because it is a robust and proven model, within its time frame, and it
can focus discussion on the possibilities.

Seeing we are all going on the record, I would like to go on the
record and say I do not like it as a model for the future of taxonomy.
 It is not that it is not good at what it does and what it is for.  It
is most excellent at its job.  The problem for me is that its job is
not taxonomy.

>From my perspective, Genbank is not 'the stuff'.  It is an index, very
rich in metadata, to 'the stuff''.  And I really hope that someone is
looking after 'the stuff' so we can rebuild the index when it
collapses, erodes or otherwise succumbs to the ravages of time. What
is 'the stuff' of genbank?  Not my field so really haven't a clue, but
I would venture to suggest, whatever is required to defend the
sequences would be a good start.

I see Genbank as the equivalent of a library catalogue.  It tells you
what is available and useful things about it. I don't care that a
library catalogue came from a card index and the cards have been
pulped.  The books and articles are 'the stuff' and they can be
updated, recatalogued if necessary and converted to different forms.
And I hopewe can all agree that 'the stuff' is technology independent
and with a bit of care will be around for millenia.  There is no faith
involved with this - it has happened.

With the Genbank model there is a lot of faith involved and a lot of
'trust us'. Well, I don't do faith and I don't do trust all that well

'The stuff' of taxonomy has got to be the specimens (especially the
types) and the literature (especially the protologues). Both need
indices, semantically rich ones, but I would be really uncomfortable
if the ONLY place you could find either was in a database. Because one
day, you won't be able to find it.

The comparison with money in the bank or under the bed is not a good
one either.  After a while the origin of your wealth ceases to be
important and even the taxman loses interest in it, so we are now
quite happy with electronic banking records.  The taxonomist on the
other hand NEVER loses interest in the origin of a name.  That act is
far too important to us.  To make it not so would require some REAL
revision to the codes...  :)

Jim Croft ~ jim.croft at gmail.com ~ +61-2-62509499 ~
'A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point
of doubtful sanity.'
 - Robert Frost, poet (1874-1963)

Please send URIs, not attachments:

More information about the Taxacom mailing list