[Taxacom] human involvement (was Re: BioNames)

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Tue Jun 4 12:22:32 CDT 2013

On 6/4/13 12:49 AM, Roderic Page wrote:
> On 3 Jun 2013, at 23:13, Doug Yanega wrote:
>> Realistically, one either needs to improve the incentive for
>> participation in the system (such as making participation effectively
>> mandatory, as happens with GenBank),
> Why must the incentive be making it mandatory? Ultimately this seems 
> lazy  "you must do this because we can't think of a way to make it 
> worth your while." It also requires that people can be bullied into 
> compliance.
First, note that I said "such as" - for the reason you yourself point 
out; there are certainly other ways to accomplish this.

Second, what is intrinsically wrong with mandatory? Does the scientific 
community truly feel that being told "everyone needs to submit their 
gene sequences to GenBank in order to publish" is a form of "bullying"? 
Part of the scientific method is giving others the data to see how you 
arrived at a given conclusion, and that's what access to sequence data 
affords, in addition to vital descriptive functionality. I gave the 
GenBank example because that is the exact same context I envision, 
except that instead of gene sequences, what is required is links/cites 
to fully-resolved ZooBank records for every scientific name one uses in 
a publication. For authors working on popular taxa, the odds are that 
any taxon name they intend to publish will already be recorded, and all 
they need is to look it up and link/cite it. For authors working on more 
obscure taxa, they will often need to personally enter the information 
into ZooBank as part of their authorship responsibilities - just as 
authors need to register their gene sequences in GenBank now. Given that 
no one should be doing taxonomy without access to the original 
literature, requiring that an author transcribe the pertinent data into 
ZooBank is not adding very much to their overall effort.

Third, I'm sure that you, Rod, of all people, can imagine ways to not 
only link to the ZooBank record, but simultaneously link to the original 
description, such that every time someone uses a scientific name, the 
work in which that name was coined gets cited in a manner that counts 
towards academic citation metrics. This would give some added incentive 
for people doing alpha taxonomy, if any time someone publishes one of 
your taxon names you get cited in the process. Right now, it is 
essentially unheard-of for any biologist to cite the works in which 
his/her study organism(s) were described, which - arguably - makes alpha 
taxonomy seem less academic than other disciplines. Heck, maybe this 
could be extended to give credit to the person who identified one's 
study organism(s), as well. Both these measures would improve things for 
both the readers of biological works AND the taxonomists - whose efforts 
are presently going unrecognized outside of the "Acknowledgments" 
sections (if that).

Fourth, having links/cites to ZooBank records would also allow for 
backwards propagation of new information. Consider what happens if 
someone in 1950 published on, say, the gray hairstreak butterfly 
Ministrymon azia in Texas. Given that just this month a new sympatric 
cryptic species has been split off, then that 1950 paper would not 
necessarily be about the species that the author in 1950 thought it was 
about, and people (other than butterfly specialists) who read that paper 
might never know that there was any question about the actual species 
identity. Now imagine if a present-day author published a paper like 
that but with a ZooBank link, and 10 years down the road, the species 
they studied is split. If that ZooBank record is (upon publication of 
the split) converted into a disambiguation link that shows the records 
for both the original taxon and the new taxon, then *anyone* who reads 
that outdated paper will know that the species was split without ever 
themselves having to do any literature searches to track down the 
changed status.

Again, requiring the registration of names one is using is a small 
imposition on authors, with a very large potential for benefit (for both 
authors and readers), and it distributes the labor of populating the 
registry to those who are actively using the names (and motivated to do 
it correctly).
> What if we had a tool that offered enough value to individuals that 
> they wanted to participate? That solved a problem that users had, and 
> as a by product built something of broader value? This, to me, is the 
> lesson of Mendeley. You tackle the individual point of pain, and 
> incidentally get people to build what you wanted them to build for 
> you. Alternatively, you make an experience so compelling that you have 
> to join ("wadda you mean you're not on Facebook?").
I agree that such an approach is desirable, and apologize if you 
gathered otherwise from my comments. Folks like Rich Pyle and myself are 
all ears if you have specific ideas along these lines!


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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