[Taxacom] Author Stats

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Thu Apr 18 23:33:59 CDT 2013

So....as Rob Whitton and I were closing up shop and getting ready to go home
today,  we were chatting with Shelley James about the recent Taxacom thread
on numbers of species described by different Authors, normalized database
models and such.  I told Rob about my horrifically long post to Taxacom
recently about how I whipped up a simple script to interrogate the GNUB
database for these sorts of statistics.  Rob said, "Why don't we put that up
as a dynamic web page on ZooBank?"  I said, "Sure -- let's do that first
thing tomorrow!"  And he said, "Why wait -- it will only take a few
minutes!"  And so.... a few minutes later (OK, maybe more like 30 minutes
later...) Rob and I had joined forces to produce this:


I realize the histogram is a bit hard to see, but it represents a graphic
display of when, in history, the authors were most active.

This is dynamically derived from the GNUB database in real time.  As soon as
someone enters a new name for a given author in ZooBank, the numbers will be
reflected automatically on this page as soon as you refresh or revisit this

Obviously, the numbers are limited to the content in GNUB; but as that
content grows (which should be in large bursts over the next few months, as
we import large datasets, like Sherborn), so, too will the numbers in this
table.  It will be interesting to watch.

Right now, we only show the top 20, but we could easily make this a user
selectable parameter to see the top N authors -- or all Authors (currently
there are 11,321 authors in GNUB tied to at least one scientific name).

So, why am I posting this?

The page itself is very mildly interesting.  Ho, hum.

What's really interesting are the following facts:

1) A normalized data model lets you derive these kinds of numbers very
quickly and easily from the database itself (e.g., this is a novel question
that the database can answer, that the database wasn't originally designed
to answer).

2) The way we've designed the GNUB database, the web services that use the
GNUB services, and the ZooBank website (that sits on top of GNUB), is such
that it only took Rob and I about half an hour to take a script I wrote in 5
minutes, based on a novel question posted on Taxacom, and turn it into a
database stored procedure, core web service, and dynamic ZooBank web page.

Many in the biodiversity informatics community are way (WAY) ahead of us in
their ability to do this sort of thing.  But it's become increasingly clear
to me that there is a bit of a disconnect between the developers (who know
how easy it is to make small but interesting services of this sort on top of
a well-designed data model and n-tier service architecture -- but who don't
know what kinds of services people want); and the end-users (taxonomists,
biologists, and others who know what they want, but don't know where on the
web to get it). 

Maybe what we need is a better mechanism for communication between the
developers and the end users so we can come up with a set of priority tasks
to build towards.  

Or not.

Time to go home...


Richard L. Pyle, PhD
Database Coordinator for Natural Sciences
Associate Zoologist in Ichthyology
Dive Safety Officer
Department of Natural Sciences, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at bishopmuseum.org

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