[Taxacom] Author Stats

Robert Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Fri Apr 19 01:09:41 CDT 2013

Rich Pyle wrote:

"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)."

There's a broader disconnect into which this one fits. The number of computer users in the biological community vastly exceeds the number of people in that community who understand what software is and can do, and that number vastly exceeds the number of people who can program.

I'm very lucky. My high school had an IBM computer in 1961 (that isn't a typing error, I really mean 52 years ago) and everyone in my math classes had a go at simple FORTRAN instructions. If you fast-forward 5 decades you might expect a lot from those beginnings, but you'd be disappointed. The stats I've seen suggest that only 1 in 10 schools in the USA teaches programming today. The proportion is even lower here in Australia.

There are movements I know about in the UK, the USA and Australia to get programming into schools. A recent and very bright entrant into the lobbying business is http://www.code.org , but you can find a lot more on the Web.

So why am I, and Rich Pyle, and others on this list lucky? Because although developers can help end-users get information through Web portals, we can write a few lines of code ourselves that allow us to extract what we need from huge masses of raw data, like the CSV files you can now download from BISON. We don't need fancy (or expensive) software to do this, or a pretty GUI. Manipulating biodiversity data isn't rocket science, really and truly.

One path to making better use of biodiversity information is to collaborate with developers to make it easy for the vast majority of users to ask questions and get answers through a Web portal. Another is to teach today's and tomorrow's biologists how to use code to handle the data themselves, to discover and investigate patterns which they can then report to the computer-shy majority. It would be nice if there were more of that teaching going on.
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
School of Agricultural Science, University of Tasmania
Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
Ph: (03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195

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