[tdwg-content] canonicalScientificName

Roderic Page r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
Wed Mar 14 17:49:57 CET 2012

Dear Donald,

I couldn't disagree more!

It seems to me that this is one case where needs of consumers and providers align pretty well.

If I'm publishing data I want to avoid hassle, and one hassle is finding the taxonomic authorities for names. Then there is the issue of how to write the authority. There are so many variables: do I include diacritic characters? is the person's name abbreviated? what is the correct date? should I use parentheses? should I use commas? If I can just publish the canonical name life is simpler.

As a consumer I can't trust people to get the authority right. Publishers get the taxonomic names wrong, and they will certainly make a mess of the authority.

So, if we mandate clean names we are saying to providers "give me this"

<taxonomic name>
[some scope for crap]

Instead, we've mandated "give me this"

<taxonomic name>      +    <authority>
[some scope for crap]  +  [huge scope for crap]

Why? Why would we do this to ourselves? Why do we think it's OK to have databases full of duplicates such as these (from the ION database)?:

Pseudopaludicola Miranda Ribeiro 1926
Pseudopaludicola Mir. Ribeiro 1926
Pseudopaludicola Miranda-Ribeiro 1926

One consequence of this is that we have projects like http://globalnames.org project, which is essentially collecting endless variations on authority strings. In other words, trying to clean up a mess essentially of our own making. 

By all means have a field for taxonomic authority, but keep that separate from the canonical taxonomic name. In the real world, the canonical name is what people use. If we want people to make data available, make it simple. If we want people to use data make it simple.



On 14 Mar 2012, at 11:16, Donald Hobern wrote:

> Hi Peter.
> I certainly sympathise with the desire for a readily-consumed naked scientific name field.  However, unless the canonicalScientificName element is enforced as a mandatory field (which would in itself impact some data publishers and may prevent them validly sharing their data without extra work to provide clean scientific names), it will be yet another element which data consumers must check.  If canonicalScientificName is supplied, consumers will still need to handle cases where it is malformed.  If is not supplied, they will need to ignore the record or else do precisely what they do today with the scientificName field.  
> I therefore worry that adding this field could in fact make the task more complex, rather than simpler, for data consumers.
> Thanks,
> Donald
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
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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

Email: r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
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