[Taxacom] Fitness for use

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Tue Nov 30 15:38:07 CST 2010


Your comments are pretty much spot on as usual, but I urge some caution here:

>I wouldn't be able to say if Makhan's recent millipede-taxonomic papers were 
>good or not. I know a lot about millipedes, and regard those papers as junk<

this is true, but runs the risk of implying (given the main context of the 
current threads) that people who know about millipedes are needed for 
biodiversity synthesis (GBIF, Wikispecies, etc.), but they are not. The "junk 
value" of Makhan's taxonomy is irrelevant to the issue of its being indexed in a 
biodiversity database. Whether it be Makhan, Verhoeff, or Mesibov, it is all the 
same to biodiversity synthesis. It becomes relevant *only* when a millipede 
taxonomist publishes a synonymy or other critique of Makhan's taxonomy in the 
usual way, then this publication also gets indexed.


From: Bob Mesibov <mesibov at southcom.com.au>
To: fautin at ku.edu
Cc: TAXACOM <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Sent: Wed, 1 December, 2010 9:39:31 AM
Subject: [Taxacom] Fitness for use


Excellent points, and the problem is being compounded by two recent trends. The 
first is the publication online of unfinished scientific papers by leading 
journals; final versions appear in print and online at a later date. I don't 
know what the editorial policies are in these cases, but it would be nice if the 
journals drew a line and said 'The data reported [as opposed to the analysis and 
discussion] must not change, apart from error corrections'. The further this 
trend proceeds, the harder it will become for the traditional filters of peer 
and editorial review to operate in weeding out scientific noise.

The second trend - which I haven't noticed so far in taxonomy - is the offering 
online of raw data and provisional analyses. It's seen as a way of inviting 
helpful comment from the community of investigators working on similar problems. 
For obvious reasons, you don't see many research blogs in the world of Big 
Grants, competitive universities and patent-seekers, but there could be more 
research blogging in future as the prospects for real employment in science dry 
up. For example, a colleague of mine recently retired and wants to start doing 
phylogenetic at home analysis using genetic data she gets herself: borrowing lab 
space and spending her own money on materials and sequencing. If she joins an 
online community of phylogenetic research bloggers/collaborators, she won't feel 
so isolated, and she's likely to get valuable suggestions on improving what she 

[Disclaimer: I'm part of Trend Two. For some time now I've been putting the 
results of a parapatry mapping study online at 
http://www.polydesmida.info/mapping  I've had some interesting feedback.]

It seems to me, though, that the key need in deciding on fitness for use will 
always be specialisation. You are obviously much more likely to know good 
data/results/analyses/conclusions if you know a lot about the subject. If I knew 
nothing about millipedes, I wouldn't be able to say if Makhan's recent 
millipede-taxonomic papers were good or not. I know a lot about millipedes, and 
regard those papers as junk.
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
Ph: (03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
Webpage: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/?articleID=570


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