[Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List

Mary Barkworth Mary.Barkworth at usu.edu
Sun Aug 24 12:39:41 CDT 2014

Nor can one reasonably complain because dead taxonomists (or even taxonomists that have moved on to other activities) failed to provide the level of documentation required to reliably identify specimens according to a taxonomic treatment not available when they collected/annotated specimens and/or failed to provide the geographic detail that is now feasible. This seems to be the expectation implied by some comments. 

I do agree that some providers, including GBIF, could usefully update more often but I suspect that most of the problem is that these tasks are non-trivial with their system. To keep from feeling guilty, I have just, with two clicks and less than half a minute [thank you Ed], made an update of our records available to iDigBio (the US aggregator for non-federal collectors) and  hope that GBIF can grab it from there in the not too distant future. GBIF no longer get our updates directly because, through a problem at our end, our publishing site went down and I did not fix it. But we have fewer than 300,000 specimens and I do not need to coordinate with anyone. 

The data are not perfect. Like most data providers, we shall do our best to look into the errors in individual records that you come across in your work because obviously they are of importance to you and hence to us. If individual records are not of concern, then we just hope that the percentage of records that are sufficiently correct makes them useful. We could stop adding new records and focus on correcting errors but anyone using data from networks should be prepared to do some clean up. Meanwhile, we have benefitted from both alerts to problems and inquiries about specimens that no one (even ourselves) would have expected us to have. For all this, *a huge thank you to GBIF*. We had a database when GBIF got started and were interested in making the records available. GBIF, and the developments it inspired and encouraged, have helped us do so in a way that increases their accessibility.  We are also asking for better documentation from those who deposit specimens in the collection, another task that been made easier. So folks, the glass is filling up - at least for the kinds of organisms deposited in herbaria.  


-----Original Message-----
From: Taxacom [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Richard Pyle
Sent: Sunday, August 24, 2014 10:19 AM
To: 'Stephen Thorpe'; 'TAXACOM'
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List

> I suspect your hypothetical "tough call" is actually the usual case, 
> and
that a
> great many published mentions of "Aus bus" may refer to two or more 
> species, without there being an easy (or even any) way to tell which

I suppose that may be true in some areas, but not in ours.  For us, the tough calls are the edge case (<1%).  But even for groups where tough calls are more common, you do realize that the fault is not with the Museums, or with the data aggregators or even (gasp) the bureaucrats, right? The fault is with the nature of taxonomy and the taxonomists themselves.
Disambiguating the "tough calls" is only "tough" because of insufficient documented information (by the taxonomists) -- not because of bad data.
Clever data structures and software services can do some pretty magical things, but one cannot extract blood from a stone.


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