[Taxacom] Online! Anchoring Biodiversity Information: From Sherborn to the 21st century and beyond

iczn-em iczn-em at nhm.ac.uk
Thu Dec 8 10:17:17 CST 2011

The symposium 
Anchoring Biodiversity Information:
>From Sherborn to the 21st century and beyond

brought together a wide range of people interested in history of science,
bioinformatics and taxonomy to celebrate the work of Sherborn and discuss
the future of the field.

The full symposium is now available online!  You can listen to the talks
with slides, and see the posters with an oral summary from the author,
through this link:


In the coming days, films of the speakers and reviews of the event will also
be posted. 
The review from the BZN is below.

Anchoring Biodiversity Information:
>From Sherborn to the 21st century and beyond

Charles Davies Sherborn provided the bibliographic foundation for current
zoological nomenclature with his magnum opus Index Animalium. In the
43 years he spent working on this extraordinary resource, he anchored our
understanding of animal diversity through the published scientific record.
No work has equalled it since and it is still in current, and critical, use.

Until now, Sherborn’s contribution has been recognised and relied upon by
professional taxonomists worldwide but he has escaped the celebration of
his accomplishment that is his due. This changed on Friday, 28 October 2011,
with a symposium in his honour in the 150th year of his birth organised by
ICZN, in collaboration with the Society for the History of Natural History
at the Natural History Museum (NHM), London. The full day meeting included
an international panel of experts on bibliography and biodiversity
bioinformatics who linked a view of the past with an active debate on the
future of the related fields.

The symposium was structured with an introduction to Sherborn as a man,
scientist and bibliographer, then provided historical context for taxonomic
indexing from the 19th century to today. Current tools and innovations were
presented. The final sessions tackled the future of biological nomenclature,
including shifting publishing modes and changing sociology of science in
taxonomy. There were fifteen talks from distinguished speakers from around
the world, and ten posters, including an exhibition of ‘Sherborniana’, or
artefacts from Sherborn’s tenure at the NHM. The event was very well
attended, with an audience of
over 120 people present throughout most of the day. As the composition of
the audience changed somewhat throughout the day, the number of people
celebrating Sherborn was impressive.

The symposium was dedicated to Professor Frank Bisby, whose untimely death a
few days earlier had shocked and saddened
the biodiversity informatics community. Frank had initiated and directed
Species 2000 and the Catalogue of Life, ambitious
global taxonomy projects that build on the foundation laid by Sherborn’s

The global and temporal reach of this event is being extended through
podcasts of all the talks, posters and discussion,
including slides and poster downloads, and videos of all the talks available
through this site: iczn.org/sherborn.

The event was organised and sponsored by the ICZN (Int’l Commission on
Zoological Nomenclature) and the Society
for the History of Natural History, with significant sponsorship support from
the Linnean Society, BHL-Europe (Biodiversity
Heritage Library-Europe), Pensoft Publishers (ZooKeys), The NHM – Natural
History Museum, and ViBRANT – Virtual Biodiversity.

The inaugural plenary talk was given by Neal Evenhuis, who provided personal
and highly sympathetic insights into the
incredible drive and bibliographic skills Sherborn had to harness in his
effort to make an essentially universal index to all
animal names. Evenhuis served as a Commissioner and President of the ICZN
for many years, and is a self-described ‘index-aholic’
whose wit made Sherborn’s labours seem a natural endeavour, at least for
those of a Herculean mindset. Gordon McOuat provided
a sparkling overview of the evolution of nomenclatural codes and
controversies in the decades around Sherborn, bringing the history
of science to life. Edward Dickinson presented a detailed scrutiny of
Sherborn and Richmond’s indexes in ornithology, a taxonomic
best-case that illuminates problems that need attention in the larger whole
of the corpus. Chris Thompson explained how research
on the important (and beautiful!) megadiverse insect group Diptera has
benefited from building an outstanding bibliographic index
based on Sherborn’s original work, with modern tools and additions providing
a resource of greater utility than even Sherborn could
have imagined. Suzanne Pilsk, with extraordinary zing, described how the
Smithsonian libraries have made Sherborn’s Index Animalium
accessible online and how this is the dawn of a new age for bibliographic
information access as we go from paper to bytes. This was
followed by a companion talk from Nigel Robinson, who showed how Zoological
Record’s Index of Organism Names integrated
Index Animalium in collaboration with the Smithsonian libraries, creating a
continuously updated bibliographic source for published names.

The session covering current practice in bringing information into the
modern age began with Chris Lyal’s pertinent observations on
limitations of digitizing objects and information. Lyal underscored our
current tendency to build forward from the past, using e-charged
traditional methods with digital analogues of paper, rather than developing
new tools that make the most of cybertechnology and assessment of
future needs and opportunities. Henning Scholz gave a thorough overview of
the monumental resource that the Biodiversity Heritage Library
(BHL) has become, increasing the efficiency of access to early published
literature and increasing archival stability for historical works.
David Remsen showed how GBIF’s (the Global Biodiversity Information
Facility) 300 million records are linked through nomen-
clatural and taxonomic authority files, thus is an expansion on Sherborn’s
dream. In a tectonic talk presenting results of ICZN committee
deliberation, Daphne Fautin, with Miguel Alonso-Zarazaga, detailed the
requirements and opportunities for Lists of Available Names (LANs)
to proceed through ICZN Article 79 to stabilise large taxonomic sections of
nomenclature at once. Although it is not a light task to implement
a LAN, a result is that ‘nomenclatural archaeology’ will find the footing
pulled out from under it, thus increasing stability and transparency in
names of animals. 

In the final session Chris Freeland showed how museums and libraries are
enhancing educational outreach, scholarly dissemination and
archiving by pursuing a focused programme to make information electronic.
Despite a volatile technology landscape, progress in scanning prints,
manuscripts and specimens has been prodigious and benefits are irrefutable.
Sandra Knapp got back to the source, suggesting that evolution or
revolution is necessary to change the way taxonomists work and how we
compile the ‘definitive references’. Knapp emphasised that modern tools
allow, indeed require, the modern equivalent of the monograph to be broader
and richer in data content and more regularly updated, and that the role of
taxonomist must become as a collaborative partner, not sole executer, in
these works. Lyubomir Penev followed this with a very practical glimpse of
what revolutionary e-tools look like, presenting the new work flow and
publishing mechanism developed by the journal ZooKeys. He pointed out that
technical tools can radically change the landscape for the persistent,
intractable controversies of registration and e-publication across all
nomenclature. Rod Page took no prisoners with his manifesto for a truly
‘open taxonomy’. His criticism that taxonomy today is only marginally open,
not really digital and not notably linked was followed by suggestions of
ways this could change with concerted focus and shared vision from
the taxonomic and bibliographic community.

The wrap-up plenary by Richard Pyle made a convincing case that, even in
this time of major technological improvements across taxonomic science, the
revolutionary change is the means by which we manage and communicate
information to the world. Pyle showed how a multitude of major taxonomic
resources are all linked through taxonomy and nomenclature. The granddaddy
of all the taxonomy projects, where it all comes home, is the GNA (Global
Names Architecture), which will be the dynamic index to interconnect and
streamline the entire taxonomic enterprise. Finally, a panel discussion was
under the banner ‘What Would Sherborn Do?’ with all the speakers taking
questions from the audience. This provided a lively debate on the importance
names, the role of publishing and the future for scientific bibliography. It
was agreed that we have powerful new tools at our disposal, but the major
for the future is the required sociological shifts in how taxonomists work
and how information is presented. Sherborn would have been proud.

Introduction & Dedication to Frank Bisby
Ellinor Michel (ICZN) & Graham Higley (BHL & NHM Libraries)

Session 1: History of Taxonomic Literature, Indexing and Traditional
Opening Keynote: SHNH Annual Ramsbottom Lecture Neal Evenhuis (Bishop
Sherborn: Work history and impact of bibliography, dating and zoological
Gordon McOuat (University of King’s College, Halifax): Sherborn’s context:
Edward Dickinson (Aves Press): Reinforcing the foundations: Filling in the
bibliographic gaps in
the historical legacy.
F. Christian Thompson (Smithsonian) & Thomas Pape (Copenhagen): Systema
Sherborn’s critical influence in getting information control over a
megadiverse group 
Smithsonian Institution Libraries (Suzanne Pilsk, Martin Kalfatovic & Joel
Unlocking the Index Animalium: From paper slips to bytes and bits.
Nigel Robinson (Zoological Record) Sherborn’s Index Animalium integration
into ION: access 
to all. 

Session 2: Current Taxonomic Practices
Chris Lyal (NHM): Digitising legacy taxonomic literature: processes,
products and using the
Henning Scholz (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin): BHL-Europe: Tools and
Services for Legacy
Taxonomic Literature.
David Remsen (GBIF): Biodiversity Informatics: GBIF’s role in linking
information through
scientific names. 
Daphne Fautin (Univ. Kansas/ICZN) & Miguel Alonso-Zarazaga (MNCN-CSIC/ICZN):
LANs: Lists of Available Names – a new generation for stable taxonomic names
in zoology? 

Session 3: Future of Biological Nomenclature
Chris Freeland (Missouri Botanical Garden): Preserving digitized taxonomic
data: problems 
and solutions for print, manuscript and specimen data.
Sandra Knapp (NHM/IAPT/ITZN): New workflows for describing and naming
Lyubomir Penev (Pensoft Publishers): ZooKeys: Streamlining the
Rod Page (University of Glasgow): Towards an open taxonomy.
Closing Keynote and wrap-up plenary discussion. Richard Pyle (Bishop
Museum): Towards a 
Global Names Architecture: The future of indexing scientific names.


More information about the Taxacom mailing list