[Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Mon Aug 25 02:35:03 CDT 2014

Hi Stephen,

Let's say there are half a million bogus records in GBIF.  That's 1% -- which is MUCH better than most datasets!  The truth is, there could be fifty million bogus records, and it would STILL be cleaner than a lot of datasets.

A lot of this discussion is very silly.  The answer is easy:  If you find the data in GBIF useful, then use it.  If not, then don't.  As Donat pointed out, the amount of money GBIF uses is little more than a rounding error compared to the global biodiversity research budget; so this nonsense about "money could be better spent" blah, blah, blah, and "GBIF was built by bureaucrats for bureaucrats" blah, blah, blah is just plain looney.

Having said that, I think this thread has been very useful and interesting overall.  It's really about clearing up misunderstandings, and thinking through plausible solutions to real-world biodiversity data problems.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Taxacom [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf
> Of Stephen Thorpe
> Sent: Sunday, August 24, 2014 9:11 PM
> To: TAXACOM; Donat Agosti
> Cc: Bob Mesibov; quentin groom
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List
> >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???
> Stephen
> --------------------------------------------
> 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
>  institution
>  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  latter.
>  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  information.
>  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.
>  Donat
>  -----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").
>  Stephen
>  --------------------------------------------
>  On Mon, 25/8/14, Bob Mesibov <mesibov at southcom.com.au>
>  wrote:
>   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
>  discussion
>   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"
>   Excellent
>   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,  yes.
>   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  stores).
>   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:
>  PO
>   Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia
>  7316
>   (03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
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