[Taxacom] a looming data conflict crisis in bioinformatics?

Paul Kirk p.kirk at cabi.org
Sat Nov 20 02:53:33 CST 2010

You will never, ever, convince anyone that the future of biodiversity information management is by using the 'wiki system' - nothing more that a digital equivalent of a piece of paper available on the internet. If you need convincing, listen to the inventor of the web at the TED http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_berners_lee_on_the_next_web.html and let us all know why you think he is wrong this time.


From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu on behalf of Stephen Thorpe
Sent: Sat 20/11/2010 02:39
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: [Taxacom] a looming data conflict crisis in bioinformatics?

the more I do of this stuff, the more I think that a data conflict crisis is
looming in bioinformatics. I know that being concerned by data quality threatens
to make me rather "unpopular", but what the heck ...

one contributing factor to the potential crisis is, as I have recently pointed
out, the lack of verifiability associated with many checklists, catalogues, and
specialist databases ...

in the absence of verifiability against the published literature, only
taxonomists can sort out data conflicts, but since they are busy doing primary
taxonomy, I doubt if they will be able to keep up with the growing cascade of
data conflicts generated by secondary sources like biodiversity databases, etc.

some of the data conflicts arise in the following way:

there are no rules to say that the most recently published opinion must be
followed, and indeed such a rule could lead to great instability, given the lack
of a well defined distinction between taxonomic and "grey" literature. It would
be absurd to change an almost universally accepted classification just because
some silly sod misinterprets some primary taxonomic literature and publishes
that misinterpretation in his "checklist of XXXs from YYY". The problem is that
bioinformatics seems to have difficulty distinguishing the silly sod from a bona
fide taxonomist voicing actual taxonomic opinions. Occasionally, a really good
taxonomist can at the same time be a silly sod when it comes to checklists and
bioinformatics, which complicates matters further.

I am increasingly worried about the growing amount of data conflict that I see
between the growing number of secondary sources of biodiversity information ...

One thing seems clear: the only hope to solve it is to allow everyone to have a
say on each specific issue, rather than factionization/exclusion. This is one
advantage of the wiki system ...



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