[Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Sat Aug 23 19:21:26 CDT 2014

Responding to Quentin Groom:

"I personally find GBIF very useful for all sorts of purposes and I don't understand the expectation of perfection of some of the Taxacomers."

No one expects perfection. Do you think 7% useful data for chameleons is acceptable?

"GBIF is just raw data."

Misleading. GBIF contains abbreviated/truncated data. In my own published GBIF audit, 45% of the records lacked the locality text from the provider's database. Other fields are missing from other providers' databases. GBIF is also seriously incomplete, because not all potential providers have uploaded data, existing providers haven't uploaded all their data, and updating is slow.

"If I use data from GBIF I am sceptical and some data is more reliable than others."

Good, you're a Skeptical User. In that sentence you could have said 'from [any source]'.

"What is the alternative? Should I go to all the different providers individually and collect the same data individually. It would be an impossible task, even to discover who had what."

It has never been easy to discover who had what, and it still isn't, because GBIF is incomplete. I can't speak for every taxonomist and conservation biologist, but I do my taxonomy without attempting to track every possible specimen in every possible repository around the world. I find the largest relevant collections and the key specimens from the literature, and start from there. 'Start' means contacting the collections, not relying on what GBIF tells me is registered.

If the goal is gathering up specimens or records, GBIF offers one of several possible approaches, *depending on your subject matter*. The alternatives for many taxa are expert-compiled and -vetted online resources. Evidently your subject matter isn't covered by those alternatives. As I said earlier, those alternatives offer better data, more of it, contactable compilers and (usually) better updating.

"Progress of GBIF is slow, because of the massive political challenges, the tiny budget and the inaction of providers, but we would be significantly impoverished without it."

We're back to market research. Who is the "we" in that sentence, and what does "significantly" mean for the purposes that "we" use it? You personally find GBIF very useful. I don't, and neither do the Europeans I mentioned in my first post, nor the chameleon investigators.

We would be significantly *enriched* if either (a) there was more support for expert-managed, taxon- or area-specific online resources, or (b) there was more support for better data curation at provider level. The marginal benefit of feeding either (a) or (b) would be greater than feeding the same resources into GBIF. As for GBIF's 'tiny budget', it's E4+ million per year, of which ca 1/3 goes to 'management'.
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

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