[Taxacom] Data query, ETC.

Walker, Ken kwalker at museum.vic.gov.au
Tue Jun 25 07:48:04 CDT 2013


John,

I work in a museum where we track species in time and space.  We house millions of specimens to do this - else we would not house more than two specimens per species that represent the sex of each species and one location would suffice.

What value does science put on the millions of unverifiable bird observation records in the "Birds Australia" Atlas that has only observational data - data used to track birds in time and space. Should we kill every bird, mammal or reptile we see and lodge it in a museum before we consider using the data of where and when it was killed?  How should we treat critically endangered species?

In Australia, would I even require an image of our unique Koala to accept a sighting?

Through digital photography, Citizen Science has the potential to engage anyone with a camera and the ability to record a GPS (although this can be calculated later) and a date sighted. In America, websites such as Project Noah and iNaturalist are inviting people to build area specified species checklists based on photographic evidence only. Does this have any value to science?

Citizen Science has discovered new species of invertebrates by specialists simply looking at images and then visiting the location where the photo was taken.

As a curator, my job involves a public interface.  There is an enormous amount of enthusiasm from "them" to "make a contribution". Some scientists reject this help but a GBIF conference last year indicated that citizen science was the only way we could attempt to document our biodiversity.

The sighting records generated by citizen science adds dots on maps without the verification of a specimen in a museum or herbarium. Dots on maps, across time and space, make a valuable dataset.

Going out in the field and seeing a wide range of biodiversity is self fulfilling (or screwing around!) whereas writing down what you see (added with an image) and where and when seen creates a shareable dataset. Is such a dataset usable by science?

Ken



Sent from my iPad

On 25/06/2013, at 8:54 PM, "John Grehan" <calabar.john at gmail.com<mailto:calabar.john at gmail.com>> wrote:

I'm a little intrigued by the reference to the Mythbusters view of science and also "citizen science" in he form of images. It seems to me that writing something down does not of itself make science since anyone can write anything down about anything. Is witchcraft science simply because it is written? Is the Bible or the Koran science because it is written down?

"Citizen Science" as a great catchphrase, but is the making of images science, and what kind of science? If one has an image of a flying saucer is that science? I ask this because I have a view of science as something that involves verifiability. For years I have told students and the public (perhaps erroneously?) that a core principal of science is some form of verifiability since this seems to be a common thread for all scientific investigation even if it requires several steps to get back to some particular observation or experiment, and that for biodiversity that verification rests with specimens housed in museums. Without being able to go to those specimens (in collections or in the field) there really is no science as I would understand the term, just unverifiable claims. It is interesting that the basic Darwin Core data is defined as spatial and temporal information, but form information. Space and time might be 2/3 of evolution, but the other third is nevertheless the necessary compliment for the whole. I have seen plenty of images of species in the group of my interest, but they are useless for all scientific intents and purposes, for all that they may be fantastic and intriguing. I have seen, for example, plenty of images of the Australian Abantiades latipennis, but whether these images are really of this or another species is impossible to tell. The images and the spatial and temporal information in these cases cannot provide information that can be reliably used in a scientific assessment as far as I can see. I will be interested to see the counter argument on these concerns.

John Grehan




On Sun, Jun 23, 2013 at 8:21 PM, Walker, Ken <kwalker at museum.vic.gov.au<mailto:kwalker at museum.vic.gov.au>> wrote:
"I for one fail to see the point of 'mega-projects' using copied, re-copied and 'machine-read' data."

It's not all like that!

The distance between two points is not often a straight line - we all seem to like progress but few are prepared to take progress in incremental steps -- such as data aggregators.

I cannot speak for or about GBIF or EOL and others but I can speak about the relatively new Australian Museums and Herbaria data aggregator ALA (Atlas of Living Australia).

HUGE amounts of money was spent on developing ALA - but it is so much more than a simple data aggregator.

Software paradigms move and shift as time goes on.  For example, the data querying paradigm used to be "ye old" SQL servers which works as a vertical hierarchical sequence of actions - this action is completed before the next action is begun.  Then along came "Non-SQL" servers that work as a horizontal non-hierarchical set of actions where multiple actions can all be fired off simultaneously.  Non-SQL servers were a breath of free-air for socially interactive websites where a number of files need to be updated instantaneously whenever something new is added.  ALA uses a Non-SQL structure.

ALA decided to spend its funding in many ways (always playing within its strict set of funding rules).  It built a powerful web portal full of "Biodiversity Tools" - tools for integration the data (for the first time seamless integration of different datasets eg. Plants and Animals) , tools to model data, tools to predict species in time and space, tools to display hundreds of GIS overlays on a taxon distribution map etc.  ALA also put buckets of high quality infrastructure back into the Museums and Herbaria (equipment that Museum and Herbaria could not afford alone) knowing the output of this infrastructure would in-part feed back into ALA.

ALA has also heavily funded engagement with Citizen Science.  In the immortal words of the "Mythbusters" -- "The only difference between screwing around and doing science is writing it down."

There are now over 40 billion images on Flickr, Facebook and YouTube.  There are billions of fantastic natural images recording new species and new distributions for known species but much of this information is lost to science because many of these images lack the basic Darwin Core data:  spatial and temporal information.  ALA funded the development of new Australian Citizen Science website that mandates users add spatial and temporal data to their images.  All of this new Citizen Science data (images and metadata) is then uploaded to ALA which converts them to new dots on distribution maps, adds new temporal markers and makes available sets of new species images.  And guess what, this Citizen Science data then becomes available to be used by the wealth of ALA tools created to use these dots.

Importantly, under the funding rules established for ALA, not one cent could have been used for basic taxonomic research and disappointingly, not one cent could have been spent on databasing specimen records in Museum or Herbaria collections.

I guess on that basis, some would have rejected this funding --- but now, Australia made a huge incremental step in managing it Biodiversity resources - it has an effective integrated data aggregator, full of biodiversity software tools and it has seeded projects back in Museums and Herbaria which directly assist them "getting their data out" and it has engaged with the growing tidal wave of Citizen Science.

OK -- ALA has indeed used "copied, re-copied and 'machine-read' data" to establish its taxonomic framework but it has done so much more and provided so much more .... it's an incremental step between points A and B.

ken



-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu> [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>] On Behalf Of Chris Thompson
Sent: Monday, 24 June 2013 3:25 AM
To: Frank.Krell at dmns.org<mailto:Frank.Krell at dmns.org>; dpwijesinghe at yahoo.com<mailto:dpwijesinghe at yahoo.com>; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Data query, ETC.

Frank,

AND what is more frustrating is the HUGE amount of money that has been expended on these mega-projects to simply repeat, re-harvest, etc., the same old basic taxonomic information, just generating new software.

And virtually nothing is left over for fundamental, basic research into the discovery and documentation of our ever disappearing biodiversity.

So, in a few years you dynastine beetle will be gone, but we will continue to waste money on re-cycling the same old information about them in newer forms, formats, etc.

And yes, this is not restricted to Systematics. But this is simply the formula for why Apple, Microsoft, et alia, are trillion / billion dollar corporations. Generate new formats / access protocols / etc., to the same data, but generate lots of $$$. And yes, since from the original UNIVAC to today's iPod, etc., bringing computer power the general public is WONDERFUL, but how much NEW information is really available to the public. [Yes, thanks to Snowden, lots!! Smile!]

Cheers,

Chris


-----Original Message-----
From: Frank.Krell at dmns.org<mailto:Frank.Krell at dmns.org>
Sent: Sunday, June 23, 2013 10:43 AM
To: dpwijesinghe at yahoo.com<mailto:dpwijesinghe at yahoo.com> ; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Data query


"I for one fail to see the point of 'mega-projects' using copied, re-copied
and 'machine-read' data."

particularly since they still make data retrieval pretty frustrating. I just
googled the rhinoceros beetle Temnorhynchus sjoestedti. Apart from some of
my own papers, the search revealed 15 pages repeating zero information.
Well, I know now that it belongs to Protostomia and Insecta, and that it is
a dynastine. This kind of outcome is the same for most species in the world,
and has remained largely unchanged for years, apart from the fact that the
number of pages revealing this information has increased. Reality can be
frustrating.

Frank

Dr. Frank-T. Krell
Curator of Entomology
Commissioner, International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature
Chair, ICZN ZooBank Committee
Department of Zoology
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
2001 Colorado Boulevard
Denver, CO 80205-5798 USA
Frank.Krell at dmns.org<mailto:Frank.Krell at dmns.org>
Phone: (+1) (303) 370-8244<tel:%28%2B1%29%20%28303%29%20370-8244>
Fax: (+1) (303) 331-6492<tel:%28%2B1%29%20%28303%29%20331-6492>
http://www.dmns.org/science/museum-scientists/frank-krell
lab page: http://www.dmns.org/krell-lab
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science aspires to create a community of
critical thinkers who understand the lessons of the past and act as
responsible stewards of the future.
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