[Taxacom] human involvement (was Re: BioNames)

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Mon Jun 3 17:28:21 CDT 2013

Well, certainly one BIG disincentive for fixing errors in other people's work is if they then obliterate all trace of the error and who pointed it out to them! It's just a matter of wanting to advertise one's sharp eye and general level of knowledge about the issue in question a bit, rather than just doing somebody else's work for them, unpaid! Fair enough? I'm sure many taxonomists/other people would be somewhat motivated to point out an error if they happened to encounter it. It would be better if the scientific community had more of a "community spirit" to contribute, like the Wiki community does! At any rate, even if the human scrutiny idea doesn't take off, every little bit helps, and if there isn't the facility to do it, then it isn't going to happen at all. Assuming that there is actually a user base for GBIF, etc. (is anyone using it?), then they must surely want to try to eliminate error as far as is feasible to do so? So, let the crowd loose on
 the data ...

From: Doug Yanega <dyanega at ucr.edu>
To: "taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu> 
Sent: Tuesday, 4 June 2013 10:13 AM
Subject: [Taxacom] human involvement (was Re: BioNames)

On 6/3/13 1:57 PM, Stephen Thorpe wrote:
> The answer is simple: less automated and more human involvement in the aggregation process, combined with an efficient and transparent system for feedback regarding errors, by anyone who notices them (preferably with the history all logged and publicly archived) ...
Many of us have been saying this for many years now.

This approach, however, faces an extreme challenge from either side of 
the equation: (1) you can't actually design a proposal where ALL of the 
necessary labor would be funded, because that would require hiring 
thousands of people (some of you will recall the "All-Species" 
initiative, which promised to do just that), and (2) if the labor is all 
unpaid (an approach which, in essence, has been/is being tried), then 
any such proposal won't offer much incentive (or guidance) to the 
volunteers - and good luck finding several thousand skilled volunteers 
who all have access to all of the necessary original literature.

Realistically, one either needs to improve the incentive for 
participation in the system (such as making participation effectively 
mandatory, as happens with GenBank), or find a way to fund a large but 
manageable number of experts who can then coordinate and oversee 
volunteers within a discipline (or do much of the work themselves, 
full-time). On my more cynical days, it occurs to me that no one is 
interested in the latter approach because, if the taxasphere was divvied 
up into equal parcels (e.g., having 200 experts responsible for, say, no 
fewer than 10,000 taxa apiece), at least 75% of the positions would go 
to invertebrate taxonomists.


Doug Yanega      Dept. of Entomology      Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314    skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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