[Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Mon Aug 25 02:10:47 CDT 2014

>What is the geographic resolution? What is the taxonomic authority? This then would define data quality much more accurately<

I find it hard to take such fine grained data quality issues seriously, when GBIF has records like the bark louse Peripsocus maoricus classified as a virus (and attributed to a data provider, NZOR, which doesn't say that!) How many more bogus records are there in GBIF? Tens, hundreds, thousands???


On Mon, 25/8/14, Donat Agosti <agosti at amnh.org> wrote:

 Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List
 To: "TAXACOM" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
 Cc: "quentin groom" <quentin at br.fgov.be>, "Bob Mesibov" <mesibov at southcom.com.au>, "Stephen Thorpe" <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
 Received: Monday, 25 August, 2014, 6:53 PM
 There are three points
 that appear again and again and need some thoughts.
 Money spent on a useless
 I think it is a
 myth that GBIF is siphoning off a lot of funding for 
 biodiversity (taxonomy). I rather argue, if there is no
 GBIF, a lot of money would not be spoken for the
 biodiversity community at all. GBIF established itself, as a
 rare kind, from with the OECD, a long tedious process that
 people like Jim Edwards, Meredith Lane and Ebbe Nielsen
 initiated and went through long gruesome meetings. It is
 also partially enabled through the fact that the Convention
 on Biological Diversity  asks the parties (countries) to
 build biodiversity observation systems (see eg two recently
 EU-funded projects EU-BON and pro-iBiosphere, the former
 being requested from the EU to build a the European leg of
 the Global Biodiversity Observation Network the latter got
 funded in competition with all sciences and thus should be
 regarded as a resource that has been successfully created
 from scratch.
 But we
 taxonomists do a very bad job in creating such
 opportunities: This current discussion just confirms it. We
 complain about bad data - data we create and should create.
 At the same time we are not able to provide a reference list
 of all the species in the world. We are not able to provide
 a response to the need to build the bases for global
 biodiversity monitoring system as bases for biodiversity
 conservation. This goal would define the quality of the data
 we need, and will have to collect.
 Even if GBIF would compete for resources:
 Compete against whom? Stephen Thorpe? An institution? GBIF
 is a global institution that has members (States) and thus
 competes at a global level. The global level though are more
 than 3400 herbaria worldwide, an unknown number of natural
 history museums, an unknown number of grants awarded in the
 area of biodiversity. Is this money that GBIF gets really
 that big, or rather a small fraction? It is rather the
 In a sense, the
 discussion we are having regarding the use of GBIF is very
 similar to the discussion on the usefulness of the United
 Nations. There are plenty of folks out there that consider
 this a waste of money. At the same time, if there is no UN,
 there is no system that allows States to meet, to bring up
 such obviously unrelated issue and discussions at global
 level such as Regulation of Small Firearms to Biodiversity
 (eg Rio Earth Summit). We are global, we cannot deny it even
 if many of us want to this such as the Climate Change
 deniers, we need global solutions that cannot be found and
 created at an ad hoc basis.
 Look at scientific names. Here we do not have a
 GBIF that we can complain about. We have some sort of many
 one man shows that do not talk to each other and thus a
 critical assessment like the one on occurrences is NOT even
 possible. And this is pretty much reflected in, and the
 cause of in the complaint about taxonomic correctness in
 GBIF data. We do not try to get our acts together, like
 Ebbe, Meredith and Jim many years ago, to build such a
 system. For example, we do not take BHL as a bases to build
 a global catalogue of life that brings together the names,
 bibliographies and the published record which would allow
 understanding each taxonomic name usage, to link the TNU to
 the original observation record cited and thus build a much
 more powerful GBIF. With few exceptions (I.e. Pensoft) we
 rather willingly defend publishing in a very obstructive way
 (PDF, not Open Access) that inhibits building such a system
 because of its prohibitive price tag to extract this
 information later, and even to discover this bit of
 We really
 need to put this discussion about the value of GBIF into a
 bigger context, and use the same criteria over our entire
 field of biodiversity information for other kind of data.
 IUCN does a
 better job
 IUCN with its
 Red List has a much more direct effect on policy making,
 especially in conservation. Therefore, the data they use
 should be much more scrutinized and in fact all the raw data
 should be available tochallenge the red listing. Can you do
 this? Why aren't you question their data and results as
 you do with GBIF? Are you happy that you have to be for
 access to their data sets, one by one? Is it legitimation
 enough that you have a monopoly that nobody can challenge?
 Are you happy with a polygon or with observation data? Can
 you get all the data the UNEP/WCMC is using for their
 analyses? No, you cannot in many cases for various reasons,
 and thus you cannot challenge them in the same way.
 I think, I prefer GBIF-data
 with all its weaknesses as opposed to analyses I just have
 to believe because of an "inner circle". I can
 challenge GBIF data, complain about it, and hopefully use
 the lessons learned to create a better system for the future
 that delivers what I want.
 Data need be cleaned up
 Yes, data need be cleaned up,
 BUT the best cleaning of data doesn't help to create the
 data standards that you envision: Properly identified with
 spatially high and accurate resolution data. You only get
 out what you put in. You can't create a highly precise
 GPS read from most of label data we have. Also, as much as
 we complain about data quality, as much should we stress to
 get metadata that defines the source of the data: Why has it
 been collected? What is the geographic resolution? What is
 the taxonomic authority? This then would define data quality
 much more accurately.
 -----Original Message-----
 From: Stephen Thorpe [mailto:stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz]
 Sent: Sunday, August 24, 2014 11:46 PM
 To: Donat Agosti; Bob Mesibov
 Cc: TAXACOM; quentin groom
 Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and
 the Red List
 Let's take
 a deep breath, stand back, and look at this again, shall we?
 The key points are getting obscured somewhat by ranting.
 GBIF harvests data from
 various data providers, many of which are already freely
 available online. In these cases, we have a dilemma: on the
 one hand, it is convenient to have one place to go for data
 from various providers. But the data providers are typically
 kept more up-to-date than GBIF (which only harvests data
 occasionally). One solution would be for GBIF to simply
 point to data provider sites (so you could look up a taxon
 on GBIF, and it would tell you where to go for data). But,
 then GBIF would be very simple, and not much better than
 Google! So instead, GBIF offers some sort of "standard
 data output" for the various data providers, and some
 sort of overall analysis of all the data, though the details
 are a bit "vague", and the overall analysis may
 break down for multiple data providers of varying quality.
 One crucial point is that GBIF in no way
 "validates/confirms/annotates" data from data
 providers. There is no "quality filter" (or even 
 "quality assessor") which can be standardly
 applied to all data harvested by GBIF.
 I guess the obvious question now is "so
 what"? Well, given the amount of funding that GBIF
 chews up, we really must ask ourselves if it is money well
 spent? Who uses GBIF and why? I have already offered an
 answer to that one (i.e. it is effectively a great big
 bureaucratic "placebo").
 On Mon, 25/8/14, Bob Mesibov <mesibov at southcom.com.au>
  Subject: Re:
 [Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List
  To: "Donat Agosti" <agosti at amnh.org>
  Cc: "TAXACOM" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>,
 "quentin groom" <quentin at br.fgov.be>
  Received: Monday, 25 August, 2014, 9:27 AM
  Donat Agosti wrote:
  "I feel, the
  is too much centered on data
 that has not the information  content needed, like studying
 a Landsat image at 30 meter  resolution and discussing what
 tree species is  shown"
  metaphor! For most
 scientific uses, you need much more data  than is provided
 by any available database. Can you get  everything you need
 online? No. Do existing aggregators like  GBIF offer a
 helpful starting point? For some people and  some uses,
  But now the
  important question: when you have all the
 information you  need, and clean it and enrich it, do you
 publish it online  in a usable form? I don't know what
 Quentin Groom's  project was about, nor do I know if he
 published his final  data.
  In my own case, every
  one of
 my 12123 locality records for Australian Millipedes  is
 freely available in CSV format (and in abbreviated form  in
 KML) from the 'Millipedes of Australia' website.
  This store is larger and more up to date and
 contains fewer  errors than any aggregator store, or even,
 the combined data  providers' stores (because certain
 providers have been  slow to add my edits to particular
 records, or to upload  them to their own or aggregator
  But if people
 like me and Quentin publish data  freely to the Web and
 aggregators don't use this  improved/extended data,
 aggregation looks less and less  useful.
  Dr Robert Mesibov
 Honorary Research Associate
  Queen Victoria
 Museum and Art Gallery, and  School of Land and Food,
 University of  Tasmania  Home contact:
  Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia
  (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.

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