[Taxacom] human involvement (was Re: BioNames)

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Mon Jun 3 17:56:53 CDT 2013

I fully agree with both Doug and Stephen on this.  I think that one of the
answers is to build in what Paddy Patterson calls (or used to call)
"Delightful Services" -- features that potential users and would-be
contributors enjoy about using the site, such that it's actually fun and
easy to make corrections.  This was the thinking behind the new BHL page
links on ZooBank (actually, that was always the vision, but it's one of the
nice perks about having that feature). And I see a lot of potential for this
sort of thing on BioNames (hint, hint, Rod....maybe add some more
crowd-sourcing features?).

As for Stephen's point about crediting people, the GNUB data model tracks
all of this very effectively.  You can see some of the information on the
bottom half of this page:

...however, that's just the tip of the iceberg.  There is a robust Edit
Logging feature that keeps track of every change made by every user to ever
record and every field.  We haven't yet had time to implement this on the
website yet, but it's certainly part of the plan.

For example, I hope Stephen won't mind me reporting publicly that, as of
this moment, he has:

- Registered 430 Authors in ZooBank
- Registered 811 Publications in ZooBank
- Registered 3,741 Names in ZooBank
- Created 12,630 individual data records in GNUB
- Edited/updated/corrected 6,709 field values from 4,738 different data
records in GNUB

[Note, the ZooBank registrations are included within the numbers of GNUB
database records.]

ALL of this work was done manually, by hand -- not by automation or bulk
data imports.

Personally, I find that extraordinary, and on our "To-Do" list for ZooBank
and GNUB is to create a "Hall of Fame" page to honor Stephen and others like
him for their generous contributions to the broader community.

The amazing thing (to me, anyway), is that much of this work was done before
there were really any "delightful services" built into ZooBank.  As we now
start to introduce those services, my hope is that others like Stephen (and
the other individuals listed on http://zoobank.org/statistics -- as well as
all contributors to GNUB & ZooBank) will find some sort of
satisfaction/benefit in using these web tools (GNUB, ZooBank, BioNames,
GBIF, EOL, and all the others) such that when they find errors they are able
to correct, or new content they are able to enter, they will do so.

But part of the key is to break down the barriers between the data "silos".
The incentive to enter content in ZooBank is moderate, for its own sake.
But if entering a record or a data correction in ZooBank automatically made
that new record or correction available through all the other relevant
online data resources (aka, the alphabet soup), and vice-versa, then people
would feel a HUGE satisfaction.

Imagine, for example, entering an ant record in ZooBank and seeing it show
up within a few seconds in Hymenoptera Name Server.  And ITIS/Sp2000/CoL.
And EoL.  And GBIF. And on and on.  We are tantalizingly close to seeing
some of this behind-the-scenes cross-linking happening (especially after the
recent Pro-iBiosphere meeting in Berlin).  Several major NSF-funded projects
(GNA, BiSciCol, iDigBio, FilteredPush, and several others) are now getting
close to maturity such that these envisioned services will more and more
start to appear as reality. Pensoft and other publishers are developing
tools to automate the flow of new content into these systems.

Personally, I find all of this stuff incredibly exciting.  Of course, there
are many on this list who know that I lean towards optimism; so my glasses
may very-well be too rose-colored.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-
> bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Stephen Thorpe
> Sent: Monday, June 03, 2013 12:28 PM
> To: Doug Yanega; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] human involvement (was Re: BioNames)
> 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
> 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
> 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
> etc. (is anyone using it?), then they must surely want to try to eliminate
> as far as is feasible to do so? So, let the crowd loose on  the data ...
> Stephen
> ________________________________
> 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.
> Sincerely,
> --
> 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)
>               http://cache.ucr.edu/~heraty/yanega.html
>   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
>         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82
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