[Taxacom] These discussions about GBIF

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Fri Aug 22 19:37:25 CDT 2014

I still maintain that GBIF was purpose built for a particular group of alien life forms, called 'crats, who simply want something official looking to cite as part of their jobs in local and national government ...


On Sat, 23/8/14, Bob Mesibov <mesibov at southcom.com.au> wrote:

 Subject: [Taxacom] These discussions about GBIF
 To: "Rod Page" <r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk>
 Cc: "TAXACOM" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
 Received: Saturday, 23 August, 2014, 12:28 PM
 ...here and on Rod Page's iPhylo
 blog, aren't getting very far, as usual. In fact, the best
 summary of what I see as the key issues comes from Rod Page
 in his recent iPhylo comments, to wit:
 "Part of the problem, I suspect, is that while aggregators
 may feel that a global database is by definition a good
 thing, it's not at all obvious to everyone else."
 "We don't make it easy to get data directly into GBIF, which
 has a cumbersome, hierarchical data submission process, and
 no mechanism for data citation. We should be honking about
 ways to make submission of expert-curated data a no-brainer
 so that articles that use GBIF data do not end up becoming
 articles about the quality of that data."
 "GBIF doesn't have an easy mechanism for people to directly
 contribute expert-curated data, nor does it provide a
 mechanism for making such data citable (and hence give
 contributors metrics on how the data they've contributed is
 being used). I think part of the problem with the "moral"
 argument for data sharing is that it also happens to benefit
 the aggregator that says "it's your duty to share". The
 benefits for those doing the sharing are less obvious, so
 it's in the interests of the aggregators to ensure there are
 real, tangible benefits to sharing."
 So while on the one hand you have people like Stephen Thorpe
 and the chameleon folk saying GBIF is pretty useless (but
 see my Taxacom posts about Casual vs Skeptical Users), you
 have others in the biodiversity informatics community
 spruiking some new shiny API under development (see iPhylo)
 that'll cure the malaise and make everyone happy to fix
 everyone else's data. From the middle ground (e.g. GBIF
 director Donald Hobern) we get platitudes.
 The core failure of the aggregators since the start of
 aggregation in the 1990s has been an unwillingness to
 understand why and how people look for biodiversity data.
 Digital compilations began much earlier as expert-driven
 projects for expert uses. The ease of using, checking and
 updating such compilations made them clearly superior to
 anything on paper. Compilations like these have since gone
 online as what I've been calling 'bottom-up' resources, and
 what Hobern calls 'expert-managed silos'. ('Silos' because
 users can't directly contribute.) Their numbers continue to
 increase. They're used by the same customers who looked for
 authoritative paper sources in the 1980s.
 The aggregators' mistake was to try to scale this up to
 include all biodiversity and to offer single-portal Web
 interfaces for searching, querying and analysing all
 biodiversity data. Yes, it *could* be done, but for whom and
 for what purposes? Has any aggregator ever done any
 marketing research? It's a new product, its development
 costs millions and you just throw it into the marketplace
 and hope someone buys it, because *you* think it's a good
 idea? And you're disappointed that everyone isn't dropping
 whatever else they're doing to make it bigger and shinier?
 The customers still want information about specifics:
 particular taxa and particular places. They want some
 assurance that the information is correct and up to date.
 Their best search strategy is to look on the Web to see
 what's available. If the choice is between an expert-driven
 project for expert uses whose builders can be directly
 contacted, and an aggregator with less data, lower data
 quality and (after what? 10 years?) no effective feedback to
 compilers — which is the better choice?
 GBIF is just another silo. It's bigger than any other but
 its size has been achieved at the cost of data quality, and
 it's still a long, long way from complete and up to date.
 Tinkering around the edges with new APIs doesn't fix the
 core problem, any more than spending big bucks on
 advertising will sell a dud product. Expert-driven projects
 for expert uses from contactable experts will be around for
 as long as the Web makes their distribution cheap and easy.
 To work effectively (no platitudes, please) towards its
 daydream, GBIF needs to spend many more millions, and will
 still wind up with mostly unvetted data, just as EoL will
 wind up with mostly empty pages.
 If half the money that GBIF has gobbled up could have gone
 to data providers to employ data curators or to develop data
 curation programs, GBIF would be a useful source for
 information not available from expert-managed silos. It
 didn't, and it won't. Why am I not surprised?
 Dr Robert Mesibov
 Honorary Research Associate
 Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
 School of Land and Food, University of Tasmania
 Home contact:
 PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
 (03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
 Taxacom Mailing List
 Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
 The Taxacom Archive back to 1992 may be searched at: http://taxacom.markmail.org
 Celebrating 27 years of Taxacom in 2014.

More information about the Taxacom mailing list