[Taxacom] taxonomic names databases

Roderic Page Roderic.Page at glasgow.ac.uk
Tue Sep 6 06:25:14 CDT 2016

Hi Nico,

So, I’m try to parse this paragraph into something I can act upon. Phrases like "deflationary stance”, "exclusion of that heterogenous community” , and "honor the notion that expertise is personalized” are *cough*, perhaps less than crystal clear (or I’m being lazy).

GBIF consumes a bunch of mutually inconsistent classifications and/or lists of names, these classifications and lists are rarely connected to evidence (for example, few cite the taxonomic literature supporting each name, hardly any provide something useful such as a DOI for an article).

GBIF then applies a bunch of techniques to try and synthesise a single classification from this input, so that users (the majority of whom don’t care at all about taxonomic niceties) can navigate the data. These techniques have author(s) (mostly Markus Döring at GBIF), the code is open, and it’s development is public for all to see. It is, however, often hard for an outsider to work out how conflicts are resolved, or how some obvious errors have come about (e.g., http://dev.gbif.org/issues/browse/PF-2600 ).

If I understand your concerns correctly, they are:

1. GBIF builds a classification that may create new relationships not explicitly mentioned in the taxonomic literature ("novel theory making”). If GBIF were to claim that it simply takes what people give it and the synthesis doesn’t, of itself, create anything new, this would be a "deflationary stance”. To my knowledge GBIF doesn’t claim this, indeed, one of the goals of synthesis is to generate something more than a simple aggregation of things.

2. GBIF builds ONE classification (albeit one that evolves over time). Not everybody may agree with that classification (the "heterogenous community”). Note that GBIF links to all the input classifications, so you can still browse them. But yes, there is one “GBIF” viewpoint.

3. It is hard to go from the GBIF classification to the expertise that generated the names, lists, and classifications that are ultimately incorporated into that classification. If it were possible to do this, that could increase the level of trust people might have, and the willingness of experts to engage with the process of assembling the GBIF classification.

Is this a reasonable summary?



On 2 Sep 2016, at 15:48, Nico Franz <nico.franz at asu.edu<mailto:nico.franz at asu.edu>> wrote:

  Of course not all will agree with this view. But I think it is a
plausible position *for a taxonomist* to adopt. And that may mean that,
regardless of how certain aggregators prefer to perceive their activities
as merely this or that, for a good section of the expert community there
*is* a perception of novel theory making, and of novel theory making under
a design paradigm that can work to the exclusion of that heterogenous
community. A deflationary stance is not an effective way to work against
that perception. Acknowledgement does not negate the great value of
syntheses to some; instead I think it ultimately helps bring contributors,
users, and quality/trust issues closer together.

Roderic Page
Professor of Taxonomy
Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences
Graham Kerr Building
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

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