[Taxacom] Community curation

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Sat Oct 26 02:25:36 CDT 2013

David Schindel wrote:

"The GRBio registry, like Index Herbariorum, BCI and biorepositories.org, relies on community curation. People enter their data and if they don't, then those data aren't available. It's the same basis as GBIF or any other database except surveys like a national census or labor statistics. No one is paid to collect these data from the taxosphere and if the community doesn't want to create a knowledge commons then it will reap the consequences."

It's like the call from GBIF for the 'biodiversity community' to voluntarily correct millions of errors, or from EoL for the same community to supply volunteer taxon curators for the tens of thousands of name-only EoL pages. GRBio, GBIF, EoL and a dozen other acronyms are ambitious projects started and run by people who know perfectly well that their goals are unachievable unless thousands of other people contribute vast amounts of time and effort gratis.

In their first attempts to ingratiate themselves with potential volunteers, the projects have marketed themselves like laundry detergents. Biodiversity science will be easier, cleaner and faster if only everyone supported and used the latest acronym.We're now seeing empty threats like Schindel's. If we don't help GRBio, we 'will reap the consequences'.

Acronym promoters and staff either don't understand or prefer to ignore three simple facts. First, as the number of whining beggars increases, charity per beggar is going to drop. Second, 'the community' doesn't exist except as a metaphorical aggregate. The reality is a multitude of specialist communities, sometimes with a membership of one, whose needs and interests may or may not overlap with those of the acronyms.

Third and most important, any Web-based acronym is competing as a resource with any number of other non-acronym, Web-based sources of the same information. Specialists have put online their own, expert-checked, taxonomic and occurrence data. Biological repositories have put online their own structure, staff, holdings etc. This is the Web-based 'knowledge commons' in the 21st century: fragmented and uneven. The *search engine* has replaced the big, comprehensive, authoritative resources that sat on the librarian's desk or the Professor's shelf. Those resources were built by paid teams and sold to recover costs, not thrown out unfinished by dreamers hopeful that everyone will stop whatever else they're doing long enough for the dream to be validated.

'Community curation' by the people of 'the taxosphere' ain't gonna happen, and the more acronyms pleading for it, the less likely it will be. The reason isn't a lack of altruism among biologists, it's a well-grounded lack of interest in helping yet another acronymic parasite.

P.S. Did Austin Mast really write breathlessly about volunteer digitisation of labels 'This is an exciting opportunity to work on a ground-breaking citizen-science endeavor with immediate and strong impacts in the areas of biodiversity and applied conservation'? 'Ground-breaking'? Seven years after Herbaria at home kicked off?
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
(03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195

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