[Taxacom] Catalogue of Life, EoL, etc.

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Tue Sep 28 21:06:32 CDT 2010

Yeah, I know, but the notion of "peer review" in this context is left somewhat 
vague. An experienced bioinformatician like yourself knows that the "strong 
interpretation" of "peer review" is 'obviously impossible', but your average 
user of CoL, etc. just wants reliable data and I suspect does expect more than 
the rather "fuzzy" notion of "oh, that's a good source database, we will go with 
that"! Besides, I expect that CoL, etc. simply take whatever is available that 
isn't obviously the work of flakey pseudotaxonomists. Also, since this 
particular error didn't originate in the source database, more needs to be done 
to prevent such data flow problems.
>If you have examples of the latter, then perhaps that is the level at which to 
>alert CoL or ITIS
yes, indeed, but I think little errors like putting a mosquito species into the 
horse fly family make for interesting Taxacom posts! Besides, there are more 
systemic problems with CoL that we have mentioned before on Taxacom, some time 
ago, and still haven't been fixed, like in Curculionoidea, where most (but not 
quite all!) endemic New Zealand genera are missing, and I seem to recall (but 
cannot check at present as it is running awefully slow and clunky) that some 
taxa of Curculionoidea are attributed to the source as if it were the authority 
for the names!


From: "Tony.Rees at csiro.au" <Tony.Rees at csiro.au>
To: stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Sent: Wed, 29 September, 2010 2:38:17 PM
Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Catalogue of Life, EoL, etc.

Well – it depends on what you mean by “peer review” – I would interpret that to 
mean that the databases used would generally be regarded as the best available 
compilations by those working in the taxonomic areas, not that every included 
data item has been separately verified by the notional (?) peer reviewers, which 
is obviously impossible…
Obviously we are dealing with a spectrum from very minor to possibly major 
errors involving large suites of data. If you have examples of the latter, then 
perhaps that is the level at which to alert CoL or ITIS.
- Tony


From:Stephen Thorpe [mailto:stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz] 
Sent: Wednesday, 29 September 2010 11:33 AM
To: Rees, Tony (CMAR, Hobart); taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Catalogue of Life, EoL, etc.
Hi Tony,
Yes, but it isn't quite that simple - CoL effectively accepts responsibility for 
errors (rather than just being able to pass the blame to the data provider), by 
making sweet sounding grand statements like 'Species 2000 and ITIS 
teams PEER REVIEW databases, select appropriate sectors and integrate the 
sectors into a single coherent catalogue with a single hierarchical 
classification' [my capitals] 
(http://www.catalogueoflife.org/annual-checklist/2010/info/about). My problem is 
not with the errors per se (though there are actually "quite a few"), but with 
an alleged peer review process which appears to me like a black phantom in the 
dead of night (i.e. I know YOU can't see it, but it really is there, really, 
really ...) !


From:"Tony.Rees at csiro.au" <Tony.Rees at csiro.au>
To: stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Sent: Wed, 29 September, 2010 2:20:43 PM
Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Catalogue of Life, EoL, etc.

Hi Stephen,

If you understand the data flow you will realise where the error originates, 
i.e. EoL uses that Cat. of Life for its taxonomic authority file / data 
backbone, CoL is a compilation of numerous (70+) specialist contributors, so 
errors in any of the latter will be propagated up the chain unless someone spots 
them (as you have done) - then the appropriate action is to inform the source 
database (in this case the BioSystematic Database of World Diptera, 
http://www.diptera.org/ ) who will no doubt be pleased to be alerted to it so 
that it can be corrected.

From their site:

"It is a tremendous undertaking to continuously maintain, update, and refine our 
Systema Dipterorum.
Most entries are still at a suboptimal quality assurance level, new records are 
continuously published, and Diptera taxonomy changes as our knowledge grows.
We are strongly dependent on your help, and we are grateful for any piece of 
information you are able to contribute.
Just pass a note to one of us (Contact Us) if you note errors, omissions, or 

So before you take further issue with CoL and its data product users, alert the 
originators of the data, and those products will gradually improve. Also I 
believe that it is unreasonable to expect every large data compilation to be 
100.00% correct, most are best efforts by individuals, often working over and 
above their paid jobs, and the odd error can obviously creep in. You will 
certainly find errors and inconsistencies in my data compilations too, but 
hopefully not too many and again, I am happy to be notified of them so they can 
be fixed when I next have a moment.

(Actually I have fixed a swag of these recently so my next product release will 
definitely be "cleaner" than before).

There are of course errors in the published literature too, as well as in 
abstracting services and their products, but again hopefully not too many.


Tony Rees, Hobart

> -----Original Message-----
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-
> bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Stephen Thorpe
> Sent: Wednesday, 29 September 2010 10:39 AM
> To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: [Taxacom] Catalogue of Life, EoL, etc.
> wondering how CoL and EoL managed to put one species of mosquito into
> family
> Tabanidae (totally unrelated)!!!
> http://www.catalogueoflife.org/annual-
> checklist/2010/details/species/id/6438191/source/tree
> wake up!
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