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

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Wed Sep 29 18:13:38 CDT 2010

well, I guess what it all boils down to (both this thread on collections 
databasing, and the concurrent thread on biodiversity databases) is this: 

is taxonomy a closed shop? Do taxonomists do taxonomy just for other 
taxonomists? Is the value of every initiative to be determined by how it 
facilitates the work of taxonomists (and associated collections people), and/or 
injects $$$ into their economy, without regard for what anybody outside of that 
closed loop might benefit from it in terms of reliable knowledge? I suspect that 
many initiatives' funding depends on promises of outputs beyond the closed loop 
(EoL being a good example). What I am seeing is many such promises, but fewer 
deliveries. The NSF national digitization ... will no doubt oil the internal 
machine of taxonomy a little, making the life of the professional taxonomist a 
little easier, but what will it do for the rest of us? Will it really facilitate 
better or more rapid dissemination of reliable biodiversity information to the 
wider public? Will we really be able to make better conservation or biosecurity 
risk management decisions? My experience with many recent initiatives doesn't 
exactly facilitate optimism, and I just don't think large-scale collections 
databasing ought to be a priority ...

From: Bob Mesibov <mesibov at southcom.com.au>
To: TAXACOM <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Cc: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>; rudy.jocque at africamuseum.be
Sent: Thu, 30 September, 2010 11:27:52 AM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] The role of ADBC (NSF national digitizationsol...

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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