[Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Sun Aug 24 04:21:41 CDT 2014

For some reason, Quentin Groom's posts to TAXACOM don't seem to be showing up. Here is his latest post:

Date: Sun, 24 Aug 2014 09:19:59 +0100
From: "quentin groom" <quentin at br.fgov.be>
To: Bob Mesibov <mesibov at southcom.com.au>
Cc: Roderic Page <Roderic.Page at glasgow.ac.uk>,TAXACOM <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List

Hi Bob

I don't know anything about chameleons, but for a recent vascular plant 
project I was working on about 60% of the data from GBIF was useful. I have 
not looked into the case of chameleons, but I'm sure someone could explain why 
these data are so bad and I expect many of the problems will not be general 
difficulties with museum data, but specific problems of chameleons.
> "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.

Yes, this shows a lack of commitment by the providers to give good quality 
data, nevertheless, what they give us is still data. You should really be 
complaining to your provider to get your data updated on GBIF.
> "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.

In the project I mentioned above I did exactly what you are suggesting. It 
took me a few minutes to get the data from GBIF providers and then a few days 
to clean that up. It then took me two years to get the other 50% of the data 
from various herbaria and the literature, which all needed digitizing and 
georeferencing. As I'm not a polyglot nor well travelled I'm sure I did a 
worse job of this than a local could have done. What you are suggesting would 
be excessively expensive for all bus a few rare species.
> 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.

Such things just don't exist except for a tiny fraction of rare species.

> "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 

If that 4 million was dispersed to all the museums and herbaria it wouldn't be 
enough to curate more than a handful of specimens. However, using GBIF you can 
quickly spotted errors in your data and correct them, just as you have done.
I expect the large costs for management comes from the difficulties of getting 
countries to open up their data. I'm sure they would prefer to spend their 
time creating useful tools for science rather than lobbying.
All the best
Dr. Quentin Groom
(Botany and Information Technology)
Botanic Garden, Meise
Domein van Bouchout
B-1860 Meise
ORCID: 0000-0002-0596-5376
Landline; +32 (0) 226 009 20 ext. 364
FAX:      +32 (0) 226 009 45
E-mail:     quentin.groom at br.fgov.be
Skype name: qgroom
Website:    www.botanicgarden.be
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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