[Taxacom] The role of ADBC (NSF national digitization solicitation)...

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Tue Sep 28 20:03:58 CDT 2010


an interesting reply from Doug - he accepts my premises, but uses them to argue 
for the opposite conclusion!

>a properly-done project is one that utilizes taxonomic expertise to confirm all 
>of the identifications of specimens being databased
Er ... so anything databased has to be first revised taxonomically??? How 
exactly does that differ from my point that only the small amount of revised 
material is reliable? Taxonomists cannot confirm the identity of taxa that 
haven't been revised. What has been revised is only a tiny fraction of what is 
in collections.

>Published data are intrinsically no more reliable than unpublished data
Er... so published data is just as unreliable as unworked collections??? If 
true, then the databasing is an even bigger waste of time!

>then it will facilitate things if the taxonomists know ALL the collections 
>containing specimens they might want for their revisionary work
Er... so the whole databasing project is for taxonomists, so they can find out 
where all the unreliable data is, in order to (eventually) render it reliable 
(or not, since bad taxonomy isn't restricted to the older literature). But there 
aren't that many collections (relevant to a given taxonomist), and I'm not sure 
that a massive databasing initiative is justified by the end result of making it 
a bit easier (maybe?) for taxonomists to track material down???

Stephen


________________________________
From: Doug Yanega <dyanega at ucr.edu>
To: TAXACOM at MAILMAN.NHM.KU.EDU
Sent: Wed, 29 September, 2010 1:42:28 PM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] The role of ADBC (NSF national digitization 
solicitation)...

Stephen Thorpe wrote:

>when I first glanced at this post, I thought it was about something that I
>support, namely the digitization of taxonomic LITERATURE, but now I see it is
>just another collections databasing initiative, which I have some reservations
>about. In my experience (which may be somewhat parochial?) is that collections
>contain two things, (1) reliably identified material; and (2) the 
>rest (which is
>usually most of it). Now, only (1) is useful, but it became (1) by 
>way of being
>examined in the context of a taxonomic revision, the results of which were
>published. So, it seems to me that the reliable data is already published, and
>what isn't already published is unreliable. Hence, I cannot really 
>see the point
>of collections databasing initiatives ...

Being co-PI on a rather substantial collections databasing initiative 
(DBCNet, the Digital Bee Collection Network), I can counter this by 
stating that a properly-done project is one that utilizes taxonomic 
expertise to confirm all of the identifications of specimens being 
databased. If there are funding agencies supporting similar projects 
which do NOT have taxonomists examining the material, then they are 
making a huge mistake. Databasing unreliably-IDed material is a waste 
of resources. Second, having recently sorted through several thousand 
specimens from a major collection, among which a great many of the 
older specimens had been used as data points for range maps and 
biological/phenological/distributional notes in the historical 
literature, it is clear that much of the older literature includes a 
LOT of misidentifications. Published data are intrinsically no more 
reliable than unpublished data; it all depends on who, and when. 
Would you blame a taxonomist who published in 1950 for doing shoddy 
IDs when 10 of the 50 known species in their group were described 
after 1950?

This is all the MORE reason for databasing collections; if specimens 
have to get into the hands of revisionary taxonomists in order to get 
them IDed properly, then it will facilitate things if the taxonomists 
know ALL the collections containing specimens they might want for 
their revisionary work, instead of just picking a few convenient and 
familiar collections. How thorough is a revision if it is based on 
just three or four collections - out of fifty that contain relevant 
material?

Sincerely,
-- 

Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology        Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
              http://cache.ucr.edu/~heraty/yanega.html
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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