[Taxacom] PS: saturday morning fun

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Mon Nov 29 15:58:39 CST 2010

PS: you see the bit where I become suspicious and start doubting your apparently 
pure motives is this: it would be very technically easy and fully consistent 
with your stated aims and motivations to simply put on each of your taxon pages 
a link to the corresponding Wikispecies page (for example, for Mimus, 
http://species.wikimedia.org/wiki/Mimus, and note that all Wikispecies pages 
have this simple URL structure http://species.wikimedia.org/wiki/NAME_OF_TAXON), 
perhaps saying something like "here you may find useful data on this taxon, 
though being open edit, we cannot vouch for its accuracy". But this would 
require (1) genuinely pure motives on your part; and (2) a grasp of the 
difference between theory and reality (i.e., in theory Wikispecies is unreliable 
and a pointless waste of your time, but in *reality* ...)

From: David Remsen (GBIF) <dremsen at gbif.org>
To: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
Cc: David Remsen (GBIF) <dremsen at gbif.org>; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Sent: Tue, 30 November, 2010 10:30:05 AM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] saturday morning fun


Thanks for the summary.  I'd be interested to hear what various Catalogue of 
Life providers think of all this.  I know some taxonomic sectors,  like the 
Lepidoptera,  derived from LepIndex NHM-London,  have not been thoroughly 
reviewed, falling into your 'raw' category.

You hit the nail on the head when you say it provides you with a starting point. 
  We use it as a starting point too.   We could forego this and simply leave the 
raw data as it is but it seemed an improvement to go with it.  We are trying to 
expand the capacity to access other, perhaps more comprehensive or refined 
sources,  should they be offered or available.   At the moment, that starting 
place is the one of the few places we can go.  Of course, flaking together 
disparate sets of even high quality data introduces additional complications but 
I'd be happy to take them on.

I'm sure we (at least I) have not fully grasped all the ramifications of this. 
 Ive tried to relay some of the complexities and a rationale behind what we are 
faced with and do.   I failed to mention the constraints we are under to improve 
the issues raised this weekend.  Until very recently we have had 2.5 programmers 
working on the entirety of our infrastructure with nearly no resources for the 
portal to fix these problems.   This will change in 2011.


On Nov 29, 2010, at 9:47 PM, Stephen Thorpe wrote:

You mention some key issues here. Let me focus on just one of them for the 
moment, namely COL and its suitability as a data provider for GBIF. I suspect 
that GBIF have basically just thought something like "well, COL is an 
aggregation of trusted specialist databases in a form that GBIF can use" - but 
the reality is *way* more complex. For me, when starting to compile a 
Wikispecies page, I will often use COL as a *starting point only*, actually 
little more than a convenient way of getting big lists of taxa formatted and put 
on Wikispecies pages for further scrutiny. Sometimes, the COL data is so 
obviously worse than useless, that I don't use it at all, not *even* as a 
starting point. The data providers from COL vary widely in nature. Some of them 
are near complete for their group, others are highly fragmentary. Some are 
*very* raw, others are quite well polished. Sometimes, there are problems in the 
way that COL interprets the data from sources, so all sorts of synonyms get 
interpreted as valid, etc. Another issue, which I don't fully understand yet, 
and I could perhaps be mistaken (???), is that even in COL 2010, much of the 
data seems to have been harvested in 2008 ... I would have thought that COL 2010 
would have harvested its data in 2010. If not, then COL is running a couple of 
years behind its own data providers, who will typically not be completely 
up-to-date either. So, in summary, I would say that COL is nothing more than a 
convenient *starting point* for building solid biodiversity data, and it 
requires a fair amount of careful and informed interpretation, not to mention a 
great deal of manual work to improve on it. I'm not sure that GBIF has fully 
grasped this? For example, in COL, the family Scarabaeidae is actually what 
would almost universally be called the subfamily Scarabaeinae of the family 
Scarabaeidae, and this is not at all obvious. So, COL is actually quite good if 
you want data on Scarabaeinae, but completely lacking in any data whatsoever on 
the *huge* scarabaeid subfamilies Melolothinae and Rutelinae.


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