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

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Tue Sep 28 20:53:53 CDT 2010

Stephen Thorpe wrote:

>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.

There are taxonomists OTHER than those doing a revision, who are 
capable of confirming IDs on previously-IDed material, as well as 
IDing newer material. There are likewise many taxa for which no 
genus-level revisionary work has ever been done, yet can be 
identified to species (using regional keys, for example). One would 
hope that a competent taxonomist being funded from a grant would be 
capable of giving reliable IDs by whatever means necessary, even if 
it means referring to original species descriptions. That includes 
the ability to recognize when a specimen belongs to an undescribed 
taxon, and can be set aside as such.

>  >Published data are intrinsically no more reliable than unpublished data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!

If you mean databasing *literature records* of species, as opposed to 
specimens, then I would generally agree. If you can't link a 
literature record to an actual specimen, it isn't useful. Conversely, 
if I correct the ID on a specimen for which a misidentification is 
published, as part of doing the IDs for our databasing project, then 
the databasing effort is *improving* upon the published data, rather 
than wasteful.

>  >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 

No, but it helps lift collections out of the "death spiral" - 
collections can die from disuse, and even a small collection can 
increase its visibility and promote loan activity by making their 
holdings available online. We database specimens for which we only 
have genus-level IDs, for example, and there are many reasons for 
doing so. ONE of those reasons is the expectation that there will be 
people who are interested in some of those genera, who will then ask 
to borrow that material. If they don't know we have it, they would be 
far less likely to ask, no? The more collections that there are 
putting their holdings online, the more routine that sort of thing 
will become when people begin their revisionary projects. It's just 
ONE benefit of databasing, not the ONLY one.


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)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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