[Taxacom] The role of ADBC (NSF national digitizationsol...

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Wed Sep 29 17:27:52 CDT 2010

Polonius speaks: brace yourself for a Voice from the Middle.

My experience has varied with the collection I've visited. Some collections were elegantly databased and the shelves were littered with taxonomic messes (the database was wrong), while other collections were elegantly and correctly sorted in my specialty and the only database covered type specimens.

Rudy Jocque is talking about in-house use by knowledgeable people of a digital resource they know well, while Stephen is worried about remote use by ignorant people of data whose currency, validity and 'breeding' (who compiled it, and how?) are unknown.

An alternative was proposed by myself and John Trueman (then at CSIRO Entomology here in Australia) about 15 years ago. We called it 'taxon stewardship'. The database of specimens and other records would be built and maintained by a specialist, a taxon steward. It would cover all specimens that the specialist had personally vetted in all collections. It might or might nor include specimens of undescribed species, specimens not yet sorted to species and even bulk samples waiting to have their goodies separated from residues. (I maintain a database of this kind for Australian millipedes.)

Our thinking in 1994 was that a taxon steward's database might not be the most complete compilation possible for that taxon, but it would be the most taxonomically solid. Anyone interested in answering questions of the kind Rudy talks about would contact the taxon steward. The steward would do the appropriate data filtering for that query (including/excluding records).

A lot's changed in the past 15 years with data management and online access, but one thing hasn't: restrictive policies on data ownership. Many of a taxon steward's records couldn't be put online because the institution holding the specimens 'owns' the information. Ever had a careful read of the 'legal' screen that comes up when you query GBIF online?

If well-paid people in suits weren't sitting down and negotiating data licence agreements between institutions, agencies and projects every day, taxon stewardship would be a nice Middle Road. Stewards could freely post their gatherings online, which would not only ensure their continued availability, but also allow for someone else to quickly and easily take over the job when the specialist stopped steward-ing. They could also function as wikis (Note appended to record 11673: 'This may not a probabilid, it could be a whosamajigid. Prof Jos Whathisname, 23 Nov 2014')
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
03 64371195; 61 3 64371195
Webpage: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/?articleID=570

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